Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Wade Miller started the train wreck, but he’ll be the last man standing

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Wade Miller
Wade Miller

Let’s not sugar coat this. Someone has to lose a job. Pronto.

Start with Wade Miller. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers board of directors went all-in on their Chief Executive Officer the day they put his hands on the till in the summer of 2013. It didn’t matter that he had zero experience operating a Canadian Football League outfit. Surely, he couldn’t do more damage than Garth Buchko, right? And, hey, he played the game. Thus it was Miller time in Pegtown.

Alas, Miller’s inexperience surfaced almost immediately, when he hired the wrong guy, who then hired the wrong guy, who then hired the wrong guys.

Miller’s “exhaustive” search for the right man to generally manage the Winnipeg Football Club was laughable. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and submit he might have picked up his phone once or twice and made a long-distance call or two, but basically his GM hunt started and ended with a stroll down the hall at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, whereupon he poked his head into Kyle Walters’ office and said, “The job’s yours if you want it,” then retreated to his own bunker.

That was Miller’s idea of a “full search.” Cripes, man, I’d wager he travels further to order a Quarter Pounder and large fries. Seriously, it was the laziest manhunt since O.J. swore he’d find the real killers.

So now the Bombers had a rookie CEO and a rookie GM tasked with the chore of mopping up the mess defrocked general manager Joe Mack had left behind. What better way to accomplish the cleanup than to bring in another greenhorn, right? Enter rookie Mike O’Shea, the filmaholic head coach whose 41-game sideline stewardship has been notable for failure, his quarterback blindness/stubbornness and his penchant for firing every coordinator he’s hired.

I suppose the Greenhorn Three could be forgiven rookie mistakes when they were, in fact, rookies. You know, growing pains and all that rot. But what’s the excuse today?

The Bombers were given yet another wedgie on Thursday night, and simple math indicates that someone ought to be out of work post haste. Their uninspiring, 33-18 loss in a skirmish with the Calgary Stampeders was the fourth of this 2016 crusade, against one success, but that 1-4 log provides just a glimpse of the big picture.

Overall, Walters is 15-38 and O’Shea is 13-28. Even more damning for the head coach is his record since a 5-1 start in 2014: 8-27. That’s positively Reineboldian!

So, where does the buck stop? At Wade Miller’s desk? At Kyle Walters’s desk? In Mike O’Shea’s film room? At offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice’s playbook? At quarterback Drew (One Hop) Willy’s changing stall?

Miller isn’t going anywhere, not as long as the bottom line on the financial statement is written in black ink (mind you, approximately 9,000 unoccupied seats at each of the last two home dates probably provides pause). Similarly, it’s unlikely that either Walters or O’Shea will be dismissed in advance of the Bombers’ next assignment, on Thursday night in Edmonton. LaPolice is safe with his plink-and-plunk offence, if only because O’Shea cannot continue to blame others for his own misgivings.

Which means…that’s right, Drew Willy is the first sacrificial lamb.

I don’t know if someone working at a higher pay scale will have to force his hand, but O’Shea really has no choice but to fire his quarterback. If he goes against the Eskimos with One Hop Willy at the controls, O’Shea is signing his own pink slip. He’s surrendering to the inevitable. And he’ll be next out the door. Followed by Walters.

My prediction: The last man standing will be Wade Miller, the guy who started the train wreck by hiring the wrong guy, who hired the wrong guy, who hired the wrong guys.

Kyle Walters
Kyle Walters

Here are the gory details of the Miller-Walters-O’Shea era compared to their predecessors:

General manager Joe Mack: 21-39
General manager Kyle Walters: 15-38
Head coach Paul LaPolice: 16-28
Head coach Tim Burke: 7-21
Head coach Mike O’Shea: 13-28

Interesting point made by Bombers running back Andrew Harris on the heels of the loss to Calgary. Harris, who was with the B.C. Lions when they stubbed their toes and came out of the gate at 0-5 in 2011, noted that the Leos recovered and hoisted the Grey Cup that November. So, sure, it’s doable. Except the Lions had Wally Buono as a GM, not Kyle Walters. They had Wally Buono as a head coach, not Mike O’Shea. They had a healthy Travis Lulay as a starting quarterback, not One Hop Willy.

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.

 

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About throwing a No Hoper instead of a Hail Mary…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers firing and hiring coaches…yellow hankies…and BMO field

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Mike O'Shea
Mike O’Shea

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are trailing the Edmonton Eskimos by four points. They’re scrimmaging on the visitors’ 42-yard stripe. Seven ticks remain on the clock, just enough time to go all-in. Quarterback Drew Willy has no choice but to fling the football into the end zone. He must, he must, he must, he must.

Except he doesn’t. Instead of a Hail Mary, Willy, master of the one-hopper, throws a No Hoper.

Game, set and wedgie No. 3 for the Bombers in a Canadian Football League crusade that is resembling a toboggan ride after just four starts.

It mattered not that Willy’s final delivery in the Bombers’ latest toe-stubber arrived at the wrong address, which is to say it was picked off by Neil King of the Eskimos. It’s important to note that, even had the Winnipeg quarterback’s intended target, Darvin Adams, latched on to the ball, he would have been hauled down shy of the desired destination. He was surrounded by five—count ’em, five—guys wearing green-and-gold linen just inside the 10-yard stripe.

Is that poor quarterbacking? Why toss the ball to a guy who has no chance of scoring? Is it poor coaching? Who calls a last-gasp play that doesn’t send every receiver into the end zone? Is it poor receiving? Why didn’t Adams battle for the ball?

This is the Bomber way, though. This is why the sound track to their 20-16 beatdown by the Eskimos at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Thursday night was a chorus of boos, many of them showered upon the deep ball-challenged Willy and others directed at sideline steward Mike O’Shea, who, should there not be an about face in fortune for his band of misfits, might not have much more game film to critique.

Oh, yes, howls for the head coach’s hide shall assume a higher pitch in the coming days.

Let’s play role reversal. Let’s say it was the Eskimos, not the Bombers, with one shot from the 42-yard stripe to win. Does Edmonton QB Mike Reilly hurl the football into the end zone for the decisive points, or does he toss it 10 yards short and hope like hell there’s an interference penalty? I’ll ask a simpler question: Does the Pope wear pointy hats?

I don’t know about you, but every time I watch Reilly beat the Bombers (which is always and, apparently, forever) I can’t help but think of Joe Mack, the much-maligned man who generally mismanaged the local football heroes before he was kicked to the curb in favor of the men who today generally mismanage the Bombers. Mack could have had Reilly for a song. The Eskimos got him for a second-round draft pick instead. Nice job, Joe.

Paul LaPolice
Paul LaPolice

It isn’t about who you fire, it’s about who you hire to replace those you’ve fired. For those of us keeping score at home, here’s what the last round of hiring and firing has done for the Bombers…

General manager Joe Mack (fired):      21-39
General manager Kyle Walters (hired): 15-37

Head coach Paul LaPolice (fired): 16-28
Head coach Time Burke (fired):      7-21
Head coach Mike O’Shea (hired):  13-27

Football is a challenging game, but I say it’s time they took the yellow hankies away from the CFL’s sideline stewards. That is, there are far too many coach’s challenges, so many, in fact, that O’Shea doesn’t know what he can or cannot challenge. He took a delay-of-game penalty for challenging the unchallengeable in the third quarter. I agree, a head coach ought to know the rules. But, remember, this is a coach who doesn’t tell his offensive co-ordinator to tell his quarterback to throw the ball into the end zone when the game hangs in the balance.

With the Bombers saluting legendary QB Kenny Ploen by adding his name to the Ring of Honour at halftime, I couldn’t help but wonder if any among the current crop of local football heroes might one day see his name added to the collection of greats, which now includes just Ploen and Chris Walby but shall be nine strong by season’s end. Couldn’t think of a soul. Especially not One Hop Willy.

Noting Ploen’s induction to the Roll of Honour, a friend observed, “They sure don’t make quarterbacks like they used to.” To which I replied, “Not true. They do make quarterbacks like they used to. It’s just that none of them play for the Bombers.”

Just wondering: Was BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna half empty or half full when the Argonauts fell flat against the Ottawa RedBlacks on Wednesday night? Officially, the head count was 12,373. But I swear I’ve seen more circus clowns crawl out of a Volkswagen. Just saying.

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.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: The Teflon Triumverate is making Miller time look an awful lot like Mack time

Wade Miller isn’t going anywhere because…well, just because.

Kyle Walters isn’t going anywhere because…well, because Wade Miller says so.

Mike O’Shea isn’t going anywhere because…well, because Wade Miller told Kyle Walters to say so.

But, hey, when a team sucks as badly today as it did two years ago (to the day) when Miller became the official grand poobah of all things Winnipeg Blue Bombers, somebody has to take the fall. Actually, you can make that somebodies. Plural.

For those of you keeping score at home, what ails the Winnipegs is Joe Mack’s fault. Gary Crowton’s fault. Tim Burke’s fault. Gary Etcheverry’s fault. Pat Tracey’s fault. Marcel Bellefeuille’s fault. There’s possibly some blame to lay at the feet of Buzz and Boomer, as well.

The nasty stuff, meanwhile, fails to stick to the Teflon Triumverate of Miller, Walters and O’Shea, who have taken a 3-15 outfit that failed to qualify for the Canadian Football League playoffs in 2013 and transformed it into a 5-13 outfit that, once again, is on the outside looking in as the Grey Cup tournament commences this weekend.

Nice work if you can get it.

The thing is, the Teflon Triumverate finds itself in the most enviable position of working for mostly non-football-savvy bosses who no longer harbor an appetite for paying people not to work. Thus, there shall be no blood-letting by the board of directors. Not at the moment.

Apparently, the only man willing to wield an axe is O’Shea, the off-with-their-heads head coach.

Once upon a time there was a shop in downtown Winnipeg called the Man with the Axe. It was a discount men’s clothing store. Now it’s where other CFL teams shop for discontinued coaches. I mean, if there is a defining measure (other than wins and losses) of O’Shea’s two-year sideline stewardship, it is his penchant for firing the men he has hired. He’s whacked three co-ordinators in less than a year. Etcheverry, responsible for the defensive dozen, was the first to go last December. Next on the chopping block was special teams CO Tracey, in September. Now offensive CO Bellefeuille is gone, just when I’d finally learned to spell his name without looking it up.

That isn’t a coaching staff O’Shea is operating. It’s a McDonald’s drive-thru.

But, hey, he learned at the knee of the whack master himself, chief executive officer Miller. On his first day on the job as “acting” CEO, Miller whacked much-maligned general manager Joe Mack. On his second day as permanent CEO, he whacked head coach Tim Burke.

Welcome to Whack-a-Mole, Blue Bombers version.

It’s fair, two years after the fact, to assess the workings of Miller as CEO of the once-proud Winnipeg Football Club, and I find myself asking this: Exactly what has he done?

Miller’s first order of business was to hire a general manager and a head coach. He promised an “exhaustive” search for a GM. He would leave no stone on the North American football landscape unturned. As if. All he did was walk down the hall to Walters’ office and say something like, “Yo! Kyle! It’s about that exhaustive search thing I promised our fans. I can’t really be bothered. Too much of a hassle. I know you don’t have any experience, but the job’s yours if you want it. By the way, I’m hungry. Could you whip over to the nearest McDonald’s and get me some burgers?”

Nothing Miller has done on the football side (we won’t talk about the Heritage Classic hockey or stadium fiascos) has worked. Not Walters. Not O’Shea. The Teflon Triumverate is 12-24 in two crusades. Thus, it’s perhaps appropriate to revisit something he said shortly after his anointment as CEO.

“I’m not afraid to prove myself and let my results speak for myself,” he said. “That’s my calling card…so we’re going to bring it.”

All he’s brought is more misery for Bombers Nation.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.