When the title of head coach for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was handed to Mike O’Shea in December 2013, making him the 30th in franchise history, it was seen as a shining moment for the football club. The young Canadian coach was a special teams guru, a player’s coach, great with the media, and was expected to be a part of the new blood in the CFL coaching ranks. As we approach his third season, is the Blue Bombers head coach on the hot seat?
In O’Shea’s first season as head coach, the Bombers came out of the gate at 5-1, looking like they were finally going to shake the ghost of the Joe Mack era. That team proceeded to lose 10 of their next 12 games, and finished last in the West Division. The 2015 season saw the Bombers with an even worse record at 5-13, but general manager Kyle Walters has stood behind his first head coach hire, saying he would give O’Shea all the tools he needs to turn it around in 2016.
Walters was not kidding. O’Shea brought in former Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice back to Winnipeg as his offensive coordinator. The addition of LaPolice should excite any Bomber fan, as the last time the Bombers made the playoffs and made a run to the Grey Cup was under LaPolice’s watch. For his Grey Cup appearance, LaPolice was given a two-year contract extension by then GM Joe Mack in 2012. Mack then made the baffling move of firing Lapolice the same season for starting 2-6. The fact that Winnipeg paid LaPolice to not coach for two of the past three years and then brought him back in another coaching role should amaze anyone, football fan or not.
If having a very suitable and popular possible replacement at head coach didn’t make O’Shea feel the heat, he will now, after Walters went for broke on the opening day of free agency. If there was a big name free agent, rumours were flying about Winnipeg talking with them – and throwing around big money as well. The Bombers signed all-stars Weston Dressler, Andrew Harris, Keith Shologan, Jeff Keeping, Ryan Smith, and Justin Medlock. With established players like Drew Willy, Clarence Denmark, Jamal Westerman, and Ian Wild already on the squad, there is a pretty good roster being put together.
It is obvious that Bombers are all in, and O’Shea is expected to be the one to lead them back to the playoffs and to possibly even the Grey Cup. But the pressure is really on, now. If he can’t do it, you can bet the Blue Bombers head coach title will be up for grabs.