He played in 271 regular season games and 18 playoff games, winning three Grey Cups. He finished second in CFL history with 1,151 tackles and was named Most Outstanding Canadian back in 1999. These are the accomplishment of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers new head coach, and 30th in team history, Mike O'Shea.
Pretty impressive, but does all that on-field success translate to a person ready to be a great head coach? Not really.
Being a football coach and being a football player are in some ways polar opposites, both in terms of skill and ability. One is a performer and producer, the other is a teacher, organizer and motivater. But, what is tangible is transferring the experience of football success and failure as a player to your coaching career.
Mike O'Shea has 20 years experience in this game and this style of game; 16 as a player and four as a special teams coach. It would take some serious biographical research to list all the players, head coaches, coordinators, positional coaches, and management types he has been around, observed, and in the end, learned from. Often but not always, we are products of our environment. If you put a person around enough good people, they learn what to do and, of even greater importance, what not to do.
That is Mike O'Shea's greatest asset. Through experience, he knows what works and what doesn't because he has seen it all over the last 20 years. In many ways, this job was made for him. Sometimes people achieve positions of authority or success through nepotism or attrition; we have all had those moments of sublime internal conversation, asking "how the heck did he or she get that job?"
But with O'Shea, the time is now and the timing is perfect . There have been enough moments of "been there, done that" in his experience that it's now time to try something that he hasn't done yet.
That is the nice and fluffy news; hear is the hard reality and truth: Winnipeg has a long way to go. Last year there were only two aspects of football they excelled in: surprisingly they finished last year third in red zone offence and second in red zone defence. But that was about it.
On offence, they scored the fewest points in the league, just 20 per game. And on defence, they allowed the most, 32 per game. On offence, out of the top eight relevant statistical categories of success, the Bombers were eighth in seven of them and seventh in the other one. On defence, they faired a little better but seventh in net yards allowed and seventh in passing yards allowed rescinds any other positive aspect of defensive play.
The single and most logical issue is ball security. Winnipeg gave the ball away 64 times last year, that's more than three times a game. Because of that, their critical giveaway/takeaway ratio was -27, eighth again in the CFL.
A lot will depend on O'Shea and quarterback Drew Willy, but the pressure is also on General Manager Kyle Walters. Right now the Bombers do not have enough good players to compete for the Grey Cup. It is up to Walters to find those diamonds, or talents that others don't appreciate or want.
Now not all is dome and gloom. The new stadium, the team's excellent fan base (second only to Saskatchewan), and a new direction headed by a new vision. And of course, the 2015 Grey Cup is in Winnipeg. Those are all environmental factors to build on. Still, ask anyone who has dedicated their profession to football and without good players, history, fan base, and facility mean little.
So how will O'Shea do? A complete mystery is about to unfold. And it will be fascinating to watch because football is not an instantaneous success sport; quite the opposite. It's much more methodical and incremental. So time is a price to be paid and an element to be used. After the third season you, me and all that follow will see a pattern of success or frustration. It has been a long time since the city of Winnipeg has hoisted a Grey Cup, and it may take a little longer, especially with the Bombers back in the West (Thank you football Gods).
Yet the first few bricks of building a winner have been put down and they are important ones, because the next ones to follow may be easier to find and develop based on the experiences of the main piece: Mike O'Shea.