As I was saying last week in the wake of another Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ wedgie, Drew (One Hop) Willy would be the first sacrificial lamb placed on the spit because Mike O’Shea had no choice but to fire his starting quarterback.
So the head coach did that very thing on Sunday.
Quite possibly (more than likely?), the move to flip-flop Willy and Matt Nichols was strongly suggested to the stubborn O’Shea by a voice from above, because he did mention something about “conversation” being part of the decision-making process. He didn’t say whom that tete-a-tete involved, but nothing speaks louder than roughly 9,000 empty seats at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, so club CEO Wade Miller might have whispered a not-so-sweet something in his ear.
That, mind you, is pure speculation.
Maybe Miller wasn’t being a buttinski and O’Shea made this call sans pressure from on high. After all, the much-maligned man might be mule-like, but stubborn isn’t stupid. He doesn’t need to see the wall to read the writing on it that tells him he has arrived at coaching’s cliff edge.
Something had to give. It was Willy. And, yes, this smacks of Hail Mary-ism.
I mean, sideline stewards are loath to turn to their No. 2 QB when No. 1 is in fine physical fettle, and all indications support the notion that Willy is free of any owies that might prevent him from taking the starter’s snaps. Thus, sacrificing Willy’s job to perhaps salvage his own is a nervy gambit by O’Shea. Also necessary. His troops, after all, are 1-4 and, while many gaze upon him as a dead man coaching, there are other culprits responsible for the shoddy start to this Canadian Football League crusade.
Foremost, at least in the consideration of many among the rabble, is Willy. His numbers suggest he’s doing boffo business, but we know better, don’t we. Much, if not the most generous portion, of his yardage has been collected in garbage time. When it most matters, he flings the football like someone has sucked all the air out of the thing. Or he’s afraid it’ll give him the cooties. Seriously. There are penguins with better hang time than a lot of Willy’s passes.
Which is why the Bombers will have $411,000 worth of QB standing on the sidelines at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Thursday night, and a backup with a losing record attempting to outwit the Eskimos defensive dozen.
Or will they?
Color me skeptical, but I’m not convinced O’Shea will grant Nichols a long leash. After all, the coach knows that if his universe is not unfolding as it should early in the skirmish with the Eskimos, not even a dip into the healing waters of Lourdes will keep him out of the unemployment queue. So, it’s my guess that he’ll turn to Willy faster than Knuckles Irving can say “another two and out for the Bombers.”
Willy got five games. Nichols might get five minutes. If this is to be O’Shea’s last waltz, he’ll finish it with the QB he brought to the dance.
The ginger-haired head coach said nothing of the sort during his brief chin-wag with news scavengers post-practice on Sunday. Not in so many words. But he went to great lengths to emphasize his unwavering faith in ol’ One Hop. Not that anyone expected O’Shea to kick the poor guy when he’s down, but he made it sound very much like he believes beyond all reasonable doubt that this is but a blip in the Willy career arc.
More to the point, I found his answer—or non-answer—to this point-blank question extremely telling: Does Matt Nichols give this team the best chance to win?
“This week, absolutely, he gives us a good chance to win. For sure,” O’Shea said.
The answer I had expected to hear was, “Of course he does. That’s why he’ll be starting against the Eskimos. We need a win and he gives us our best shot.” Instead, it was “a good chance” to win rather than “the best” chance to win. Call it splitting hairs, if you like, but what he didn’t say told me more than what he did say.
If Nichols stubs his toe in The Chuck, he’ll be holding a clipboard again. Bet on it.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.