FRIESEN: Bombers’ O’Shea, Jets’ Maurice, as Winnipeg as winter

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At the time, they were two very separate happenings within two very different organizations. Unrelated headlines, but with a common theme.

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Winnipeg Jets hired new head coaches six weeks apart in late 2013, early 2014.

The goal for both: to fix teams in various states of disrepair.

Nearly eight years later, Mike O’Shea, 51, and Paul Maurice, 54, are still here, winning some, losing some, but beating the snot out of the odds.

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Everywhere else, teams in both the CFL and NHL change coaches like trees change leaves.

Not in Winnipeg, where you can add O’Shea and Maurice to a list that includes cold winters, summer road construction and the occasional mosquito.

Things you can count on.

“Winnipeg’s been a pretty great place for both of us,” is how Maurice put it.

In one-on-one interviews with the The Winnipeg Sun on Tuesday, the mutual respect between the hockey guy and the football guy was obvious.

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They have plenty in common, too.

Both from small-city Ontario, O’Shea from North Bay, Maurice from Sault Ste. Marie, five hours away, they’ve become fixtures in the community, as recognizable as any two faces in Manitoba.

They’ve also gotten to know each other, attending some of the same events – their sons shared a classroom at St. Paul’s High School – while sharing the occasional cup of coffee and talking shop.

“He’s got so much experience,” O’Shea said of the Jets boss. “He’s so smart. I like watching his press conferences. You think about it, he’s got 1,600-plus attempts at post-game comments, and I’ve got whatever I’ve got, a hundred. So there’s always something to learn.

“Paul was certainly blessed with better interview skills.”

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Maurice says what struck him about O’Shea as they got to know each other was his love for his players and for the game.

O’Shea is a CFL Hall of Famer, one of the best Canadians to play. Maurice never made it to the NHL, an eye injury steering him into coaching around the time he turned 21.

“Because he’s been through the wars, he has the opportunity to be honest as only a player could be to another player,” Maurice said. “I would equate him a bit to (NHL coach) Rod Brind’Amour. He has that connection with his players.

“They’re a championship team and he’s done a marvelous, marvelous job.”

O’Shea is the CFL’s longest-tenured coach with the same team, while Maurice is No. 2, behind only Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, in the NHL.

Their shared longevity – Canada’s six other CFL/NHL markets have had between seven and nine different head coaches each during the O’Shea/Maurice era – is due, in part, to timing.

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“They were both in a rebuild,” Maurice said of the Jets and Bombers. “And with patient understanding of what it was going to look like for a few years before you’d start to reap some of the benefits of that rebuild. Both had maybe righted some wobble that was going on in the program.”

Maurice replaced the Jets’ first coach, Claude Noel, mid-season of their third year.

O’Shea took over a much more deep-rooted problem. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the Bombers were the CFL’s punchline, as well as its punching bag, when he took over for 2014.

It took three seasons to get back in the playoffs, new CEO Wade Miller somehow resisting the urge to pull the trigger.

“In our case, there was wholesale change from top, down,” O’Shea said. “Because of the changes above me, there was a commitment to a longer time-frame to build this the way we saw the collective vision.”

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Miller’s patience paid off with a 2019 Grey Cup title, the city’s first in 29 years.

Downtown, it took Maurice four years to make any playoff noise.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and co-owner Mark Chipman stuck by their man, too. This season, in particular, they’re expecting results.

When a coach’s best-before date has passed, his message become stale, it’ll show in the players.

“If you’re not trying to change, get better, evolve every year, yeah, you’re message gets old,” Maurice said. “But you’re also then behind the game, which is even worse. So you constantly have to be (changing). And you’re given that opportunity, at least in the NHL, with the amount of changeover. And in the CFL, too. You can rebuild your team a little bit each year.”

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Asked about keeping his message fresh, O’Shea jokes that he doesn’t deliver many messages, so it’s not hard.

The Bombers’ boss, like Maurice, does talk a lot about constantly learning.

How to treat players is probably the single most important factor in a coach’s staying power.

O’Shea’s bedrock principle is trust.

“You try to give trust immediately, and you’re not always pressing guys to make them earn it,” he said. “They come in the building, we’ve signed them, they’re part of our team right away and you trust ’em right away.”

The other underlying principle, for both coaches, is straight-up honesty.

“Even if it’s really bad news, you learn to deliver it as simply as you can,” Maurice said, recalling something goalie Tom Barrasso said when he was with Carolina, 20 years ago. “I wasn’t sure who I was playing in goal in Vancouver one night, and I hadn’t told the goalies. And he stuck his head in and said, ‘Listen, the next best answer to yes is no. And that just stuck with me.”

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“They want to just know the truth,” O’Shea added. “They don’t want their time wasted. I’m also not blessed with great command over the English language, so it’s pretty simple to be simple.”

What they’ve both been blessed with is stability.

In the most unstable business of all.

Superstitious feeling

Paul Maurice wasn’t supposed to watch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their 2019 Grey Cup run.

He and his wife had agreed it was for the best.

“That’s solely based on the superstitions that we all have,” the Jets head coach said. “If I turned it on three or four years ago, I was cheering hard for ’em, and nothing good was happening. So I would actually at times not be allowed to be inside the house when my wife was watching the Blue Bombers play.”

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Then came a Jets trip to Nashville in November, two years ago, the weekend the Bombers were visiting defending champion Calgary in the West semifinal.

“I turned on the TV in Nashville and the Blue Bombers are playing,” Maurice recalled. “It’s not supposed to be on TV in Nashville. I turn it on, and I’m going, ‘Oh, sh–!’ Except when I turn it on they score a touchdown, and I’m going, ‘Well, maybe this is the change.’ And they win. Now the superstition has switched, so then I had to watch them. And then they go on to win the Grey Cup.

“I may have single-handedly won the Blue Bombers the Grey Cup. I never got a thank-you or anything.”

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, an avid Jets watcher, was glad to hand over some of the credit.

“He can have it,” O’Shea said, before making a rather bold prediction for Maurice’s team.

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“When they win the Stanley Cup this year, I’ll be at Portage and Main.”

pfriesen@postmedia.com

Twitter: @friesensunmedia

Trading places

NHL/CFL head coaches since Mike O’Shea and Paul Maurice arrived in Winnipeg*

Winnipeg

Paul Maurice
Mike O’Shea

Vancouver

John Tortorella
Willie Desjardins
Travis Green
Mike Benevides
Jeff Tedford
Wally Buono
DeVone Claybrooks
Rick Campbell

Edmonton

Dallas Eakins
Todd Nelson
Todd McLellan
Ken Hitchcock
Dave Tippett
Chris Jones
Jason Maas
Scott Milanovich
Jaime Elizondo

Calgary

Bob Hartley
Glen Gulutzan
Bill Peters
Geoff Ward
Darryl Sutter
John Hufnagel
Dave Dickenson

Saskatchewan (CFL only)

Corey Chamblin
Bob Dyce
Chris Jones
Craig Dickenson

Hamilton (CFL only)

Kent Austin
June Jones
Orlondo Steinauer

Toronto

Randy Carlyle
Peter Horachek
Mike Babcock
Sheldon Keefe
Scott Milanovich
Marc Trestman
Corey Chamblin
Ryan Dinwiddie

Ottawa

Paul MacLean
Dave Cameron
Guy Boucher
Marc Crawford
D.J. Smith
Rick Campbell
Paul LaPolice

Montreal

Michel Therrien
Claude Julien
Dominique Ducharme
Tom Higgins
Jim Popp
Jacques Chapdelaine
Kavis Reed
Mike Sherman
Khari Jones

*source: Patti Dawn Swansson, via Twitter

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