The Bombers continued their early December tradition today by naming a new head coach. The usual optimism surrounded the event, although this time it seemed a little different.
I’m not going to sit here and claim Mike O’Shea, the 30th head coach in Bomber history, is the answer, because no one knows. He does, however, seem like a down-to-earth, likeable and respected man who played 16 seasons in the CFL as a rugged middle linebacker and then had four more years as Toronto’s innovative special teams boss. He is an excellent choice, but he is a rookie choice. It’s a gamble, but it seems like a smart gamble. Only time will tell.
A few tidbits from today’s press conference at the Fairmont Hotel:
• The presser was originally going to be held on Friday, but it was moved up to today. Not sure why, but the speculation is it was because there are so many assistant coaching spots to fill that there was no use waiting around. Makes sense.
• Here’s what one league executive said to me when I asked his thoughts on the O’Shea hire: “I like it providing he gets a good staff with him. They need a vet somewhere.”
• O’Shea came across as, well, a Canadian. When asked why he felt he was qualified to coach the Bombers, his response was: “Being from North Bay, you try not to want to talk about yourself, but I guess this is the forum where you have to do it.”
• I wonder if Rich Stubler becomes a defensive co-ordinator candidate for the Bombers if he parts ways with the B.C. Lions?
• One of the new names I heard as a possible coaching staff member on Wednesday is Cooper Harris. If you Google him, it’s NOT the attractive actress you will see on the first page of search results. He is a former teammate of O’Shea’s.
• O’Shea said some of the coaches who have influenced him over the years include Don Matthews, Stubler, Gary Etcheverry, Scott Milanovich and Jim Barker. Not a bad crew.
• O’Shea said one of the first things he asked the Bombers during the interview process was how much time he would be given to turn things around. “I wanted to find out what their commitment level was,” he said. “They are committed to this town, this province, this organization, and they’re committed to winning. To me, it was an easy choice. The matter of time, Kyle’s done a great job with the scouting staff, Wade’s done a great job hiring Kyle. I know it sounds a bit like a love-in, but they’re building it right. Their hearts are in the right place. They’ve got good football minds. There’s nowhere to go but up.”
• I talked to O’Shea’s former teammate, Kevin Eiben, on Wednesday, and he had nothing but great things to say about the new Bomber boss. “One of the smartest players I’ve ever played with, one of the hardest-working for sure, and one of the toughest,” Eiben said. “I can always remember one of the years when he broke his collarbone and played another nine games with a broken collarbone. I’d never seen that in my career. He loved the game. He was always there for his teammates no matter what, and he wasn’t going to be pulled off the field unless he was dying.”
• It didn’t go unnoticed by several in attendance that Wade Miller was at the back of the room and it was Kyle Walters up at the front with O’Shea. It was a subtle gesture that Walters is his own man and made the O’Shea selection. Miller will still be in the picture, though, especially if Khari Jones becomes the offensive co-ordinator.
• My colleague, Paul Friesen, asked O’Shea if he would make the big decisions, like who the starting quarterback would be week in and week out. That was one of the things that Tim Burke could have done better: not completely giving the responsibility to the offensive co-ordinator. O’Shea’s answer makes it sound even more like it’s going to be a group effort on Chancellor Matheson Road going forward. “That will be a collaboration,” he said. “That’s not going to be left just up to the offensive co-ordinator. I will certainly value their opinion greatly. But if there’s some glaring issue or some game management issue that I have, we’re definitely going to have to talk about it.”
• The first time O’Shea and GM Kyle Walters met was in 1992 on the practice field at the University of Guelph, where they literally collided during a training camp drill. Walters was a running back; O’Shea a linebacker. “I’m kind of a small, shifty guy, and I looked across and it was Mike O’Shea,” Walters said. “And he killed me. That was Day 1 of training camp. And I was like, ‘I’m not sure if this university football is cut out for me.’ ”
• It was clear O’Shea was blown away by the reception he got during the press conference. The Eskimos invited their fans to come to Chris Jones’ press conference last week, and the Bombers followed suit. More than 100 supporters showed up, and it had O’Shea wishing he had brought his entire family to Winnipeg. O’Shea brought his only son, Mike Jr., to Winnipeg and posed for pictures with him afterwards.
• O’Shea will be moving his family from Milton, Ont., which is the only place it has ever called home, to Winnipeg, which he noted is no small thing. His other family members include his wife Richere and two daughters in addition to Mike Jr.
• Just for fun, I went back and looked at Toronto’s special teams units in 2010 — O’Shea’s first year with the Argos. They had the best punt-return average, the third best kick return average, the most big plays, the most kick return touchdowns, the fewest cover team penalties and the best kickoff average.
• In addition, the Argos special teams were 5-for-5 on third-down fakes in 2010. The rest of the league was a combined 7-for-11. Bomber fans are no doubt hoping he brings that kind of fun to Investors Group Field in 2014.