The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are taking that first letter in CFL very seriously, naming Canadian Mike O’Shea as their new head coach on Wednesday.
He was recruited by former University of Guelph teammate and fellow Canadian Kyle Walters, Winnipeg’s new general manager.
“Being Canadian is extremely important to me,” O’Shea said after he was introduced as the team’s 30th head coach.
But he admitted his nationality hadn’t really crossed his mind as he accepted his first head coaching job. He was special teams co-ordinator with the Toronto Argonauts, also his home for most of his 16 years in the league as a middle linebacker.
“Do I think it can help in certain situations? Absolutely. . . I am an extremely proud Canadian.”
O’Shea succeeds Tim Burke, who was sacked after Winnipeg tied its worst record ever in the 18-game CFL this season at 3-15. Burke replaced Paul LaPolice in mid-2012 and no one has been able to hold the job for long in recent years.
It was a point not lost on O’Shea, 43. How much time will he have to build a winner?
“That’s one of the first questions I asked them,” he said.
“I wanted to find out what their commitment level was. They are committed to this town, this province, this organization and they’re committed to winning. To me it was an easy choice.”
It’s been a busy week for the Bombers.
On Tuesday they also named former quarterback Danny McManus and Ted Goveia as new assistant GMs to join Walters in rebuilding the team.
Not that O’Shea likes to think of this as a rebuilding effort, which suggests a process that might take some time.
He got a round of applause from the fans in the room when he made that clear.
“I know what I believe and the only reason you start a season is to win a Grey Cup, so it’s my job as a coach (much clapping ensues) it’s my job as a coach to get people to buy into that.”
Not long removed from his playing days, some may see O’Shea as to young and inexperienced to take on the role of head coach.
That notion was quickly refuted by Argonauts safety and special teams player Matt Black, who played under O’Shea for the past four seasons in Toronto.
“These people that don’t think O’Shea is qualified are sorely mistaken,” Black posted on his Twitter account. “His players will sacrifice their bodies for him. Mark my words...”
The Bombers haven’t won a Grey Cup since 1990, although their last appearance at the final isn’t that long ago — 2011.
One of the remaining big pieces to put in place is a starting quarterback for 2014 but O’Shea wouldn’t comment at all on any suggestion Zach Collaros might be a candidate. The Argos backup is under contract and off limits as such.
O’Shea did say he was a great guy.
The Argos are having a pre-Christmas sale it seems with defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones named head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos just last week.
The Bombers have now pretty well cleaned house after the Joe Mack as GM era, replacing their president, general manager and coach.
O’Shea, a native of North Bay, Ont., spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach with the Argonauts.
He was part of four Grey Cup winning teams, three as a player (1996, 1997 and 2004) and his first as a coach in 2012, leading a stalwart special teams unit for the Argos. O’Shea also won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian award in 1999.
He described the kind of team he hopes to put on the field next season.
“If I were going to envision how we’re going to win games, it’s gong to be defence and special teams. It’s going to be hard-nosed but disciplined football. They’re going to be hard-working guys, character players. We’re going to do it the old-fashioned way.”
Walters says like O’Shea, he wants the Bombers to become a team that wins consistently and the work starts right now.
“Our No. 1 priority is to put a process in place that can ensure sustainable winning. And as Mike said you don’t start the year with any other goal than winning the Grey Cup . . . and that will be our goal.”
Several key members of the Argos took to Twitter to wish their former coach well in Manitoba’s capital.
“Just found out that our Special Teams Ace is moving on and up!” posted star receiver and kick returner Chad Johnson. “Proud and Blessed to have battled for you Osh! Def won’t be the same!”
Added receiver Andre Durie: “It has been a true honour to have played with and Developed under Coach O’Shea ...wish him all the best in the Peg....except against us.”