Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Sep 9 2015, Page 20

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - September 9, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE C1 M ARCEL Bellefueille still has a job today because Mike O’Shea has a coaching background in special teams and not offence. For Pat Tracey, his bad luck was having a boss who knows just as much about special teams play as he does. O’Shea can put his hands on the Bombers’ specialteams portfolio with relative ease, so Tracey was fired early Tuesday morning. If O’Shea could just as comfortably anoint himself offensive co- ordinator and expect improvements, Bellefueille’s job would be far less secure. Special teams has certainly been a headache, but not more so than the lack of offence the Bombers have been able to generate. Winnipeg has the worst offence in the league. Statistically and aesthetically. They don’t move the ball or pick up first downs and stay on the field. They put immense pressure — both physical and psychological — on the defence. Having quarterback Drew Willy on the sidelines due to injury is certainly part of that picture. Willy’s injury is the most significant key to the Bombers’ losing skid that has left them at 3- 7. All teams, however, have to handle injuries. This offence hasn’t adjusted. It has rolled over and that’s unacceptable. As one football person put it to me Tuesday, “ they fired the wrong guy.” Tracey didn’t have the excuse of injuries to lean on. So he’s out. O’Shea must have seen some real issues with Tracey’s work to have made this move. If the special teams don’t improve — now it’s O’Shea’s fault and his alone. By pushing Tracey off the plank — O’Shea has stepped out on it himself. There are a couple of ways to look at O’Shea’s firing of Tracey. One sees Tracey as a scapegoat. A man cast aside in an act of deflecting blame. The other is that this is a point of O’Shea’s maturation as a coach. Last season, he stuck with defensive co- ordinator Gary Etcheverry and his scheme long after it became obvious it wasn’t working. Loyalty and likely a sense of deference were at play. With Tracey, who O’Shea has had a relationship with since his university days at Guelph, the second- year head coach acted. He didn’t let personal feelings get in the way. O’Shea was asked a question on Tuesday about firing Tracey and whether it was easier to get rid of the coach than a whole unit of players. “ Nothing about this was easy,” said O’Shea. He didn’t want to do this, but he felt it was the best thing for the team. Being the boss can be lonely and at some point a coach has to realize his loyalty has to be the organization and to winning. Makes for fewer friends but better job security. O’Shea is being accused of a lot of things these days, from not dressing up enough on the sidelines ( apparently a collared shirt rather than his customary T- shirt would make him a better coach) to his lack of fire to his won- loss record. My sources tell me there is all kinds of emotion behind closed doors. As for the shirt, well, if putting on a golf shirt would improve his record, I’m sure O’Shea would be first in line. The wins and losses? He’s now 10- 21 as a head coach. Last season he put a respectable 7- 11 mark on the board in his first year. There are eight games left before we can make a clear evaluation of this season. I’ve made no secret to hide my confidence in O’Shea as a coach. He’s smart, tough and hardworking. I haven’t changed my mind. Better players and a deeper roster will improve O’Shea’s record. Losing clouds the mind. It enlarges the little picture. It stirs emotion and blocks out the clear and logical plan put in place. Rational thinking would tell us the Bombers’ four- game losing skid is more about the health of Willy and if the quarterback were playing, this team would likely be 5- 5 rather than 3- 7. The heat would be off and the good work done by Bombers management would be shining through. Instead, there’s blood leaking out of my inbox as the emails screaming for change continue to roll in. No one is safe from the folks taking the time to send their thoughts. CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters and O’Shea would all be on the street if a segment of readers had their way. The Bombers posted a 3- 15 record two seasons ago and cleaned house, firing CEO Garth Buchko, GM Joe Mack and head coach Tim Burke. That wasn’t long ago. This team has improved but not enough to handle the adversity of losing a starting quarterback. Wheels in motion / C3 SPORTS SPORTS EDITOR: STEVE LYONS 204- 697- 7285 I SPORTS@ FREEPRESS. MB. CA I WINNIPEGFREEPRESS. COM I CLASSIFIEDS C9 WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2015 C 1 GARY LAWLESS M IKE O’Shea insists he’s not worried about his own job security. If that’s true, O’Shea is quite possibly the only person at Investors Group Field this week who isn’t worried about losing his job. With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in free fall, the axe began to swing in earnest at IGF Tuesday morning with the announcement special- teams co- ordinator Pat Tracey had been fired. And it continued swinging in the afternoon with the announcement Brian Brohm has been replaced by Matt Nichols as the Bombers’ starting quarterback this week. The axeman cometh As the free fall continues, firing, demotion hint no job is safe Add to those changes a new starting strong- side linebacker this week in Maurice Leggett; a new starting safety in Lin- J Shell; and what might be a new starting left guard in Sam Longo and it’s clear the team that faces the Saskatchewan Roughriders at home Saturday in the Banjo Bowl will be markedly different than the one that lost to those same Riders 37- 19 in Regina Sunday. With change in the air, the larger question now is how far this franchise is prepared to go to salvage a season that was supposed to end with playing in a Grey Cup game at home but is increasingly looking, at 3- 7, as though it’s going to end the way Bombers’ seasons always seem to end lately: in disappointment. With Tracey now gone — victim of a special- teams unit that continues to give up big plays while making precious few of their own — and fans continuing to clamour for the head of offensive co- ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille, O’Shea was asked Tuesday a question that would have been unthinkable even a month ago: Are you worried about losing your job? O’Shea gave the only answer he could under the circumstances. “ I don’t think about losing my job, no,” O’Shea replied. “ I think about getting up every morning and coming to work and seeing the guys and making sure I’m doing everything I can do to make them successful.” Now, that might sound like lip service from an eternally upbeat man in O’Shea, who is the kind of guy who also would have pointed out all the free snorkelling opportunities as the Titanic sunk to the ocean floor. But it is also a fact that while a good portion of Bomber Nation has now given up on this team for yet another year, the team itself remains convinced they can quickly claw their way back into contention. Sound preposterous? Consider this: For all this team’s problems — they’ve lost four in a row, five of their last six and 17 of their last 22 games — the Bombers are also just one win out of a playoff spot. But nothing’s changing if nothing’s changing. And so O’Shea will add special- teams duties to his list of responsibilities this week and hand the ball to Nichols, who will be Winnipeg’s fourth starting quarterback in five games when he lines up against the Riders. ( Ponder that stat the next time you hear someone blame Bellefeuille for all that ails the Bombers offence). And the changes aren’t likely to end there. O’Shea confirmed Tuesday the team is aggressively pursuing former all- star non- import middle linebacker Henoc Muamba, who was cut over the weekend by the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. Muamba is keen to land another NFL job — he had a workout with the New York Giants this week. But if the NFL door closes for Muamba, the Bombers believe they have the inside track on landing a player who has said repeatedly how grateful he is for his time in Winnipeg and the opportunities the Bombers gave him. And the Bombers also announced via their Twitter account Tuesday a series of new free- agent camps in the U. S. this month. While it’s hard to imagine a saviour for this season emerging from a cold tryout in the coming weeks, the timing of the announcement will not have been lost on a Bombers dressing room where no one’s job is safe right now. The axe is out and the message at Investors Group Field was unmistakable Tuesday: the bleeding off the field is going to continue for as long as the bleeding on the field. paul. wiecek@ freepress. mb. ca Twitter: @ PaulWiecek By Paul Wiecek BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS New Bomber quarterback Matt Nichols gets the start for Saturday’s Banjo Bowl. He’s the fourth starting pivot in five games, but said he should have the entire playbook at his command come game time. Willy’s injury masking Bombers’ progress Continued Please see LAWLESS C 2 C_ 01_ Sep- 09- 15_ FP_ 01. indd C1 9/ 8/ 15 10: 12: 08 PM

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