Job 1 for Bombers: hang onto coach O’Shea

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers president/CEO Wade Miller continued a new tradition by giving me a hug again after the Grey Cup game in Hamilton on Sunday.

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Like it or not, this time I saw it coming, so I could brace for it.

The former fullback is going to have to show a lot more love than that for his head coach this off-season.

By now you may have heard there’s more than a passing interest in Mike O’Shea from over in Edmonton.

Coming off a miserably dysfunctional season, on and off the field, the Elks have reportedly discussed the possibility of luring O’Shea away from the Blue and Gold and into Green and Gold.

Now, O’Shea is under contract with the Bombers for another year. But that’s as a head coach, only.

The Elks could pry him away with a dual offer and promotion: head coach and GM, which we’re told they’re considering.

Teams don’t generally stand in the way of coaches under contract who want to leave for a better opportunity.

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The first chance to ask O’Shea about his potential interest in being a GM was before the Grey Cup celebration at the stadium, Wednesday night.

“I’ve got an interest in hanging out and drinking more beer with the team,” was his first reply. “And that’s what I’m focused on.

“I know why you’re asking. And I know what I want to do right now.”

I’ve always got the sense O’Shea is wired to be a coach. To interact with players every day. To experience games from inside the heat of the battle, in constant communication with players and coaches in the ultimate competitive environment.

Am I wrong, coach?

“Once again, due to the lack of sleep and the magnitude of this win and the importance of our players right now, I’m really looking forward to getting back in that dressing room,” he said. “Especially since I didn’t put a coat on.”

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You’ll notice what O’Shea didn’t say there: no.

I gave him three chances to shut the door on any speculation about his future, and he chose not to.

What does it mean?

Possibly nothing at all.

You can read what you want from those comments, or what was missing, just like you can read what you want from the comments he made on the massive amount of free agents the Bombers have.

“We’ll do our damnedest to get everybody back,” he said. “We’ll get the 2022 version of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and we’ll take the field trying to be the best version of that team we can.”

That was clearly his focus on Wednesday. Other than going in for another beer.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about O’Shea it’s that he’s methodical about the process.

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When the time comes to unveil his roster, he unveils it. Not a minute sooner than he has to.

The day right in front of him is what he worries about.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The man plans for the future.

O’Shea has established himself as one of the best.

The CFL coach-of-the-year this season. Back-to-back Grey Cups, for a franchise that went 28 seasons without one.

Hell, his statue may eventually join Bud Grant’s and Cal Murphy’s outside the stadium.

Incredibly, he’s perfect in Grey Cup games: 3-0 as a player, 1-0 as an assistant coach and now 2-0 as a head coach.

What’s left to do in Winnipeg?

Go for the three-peat, obviously.

But when you’re at the top, no matter how long you stay there, there’s only one way to go.

Then there’s the money that would come with a dual appointment. He could double his salary.

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There’s also the new challenge that would come with it. If you’re not expanding your horizons, you run the risk of becoming stagnant.

From the Elks’ standpoint, who better to rebuild the mess of a culture that organization is mired in?

If they gave him the time to do it, as Miller did here, there’s no reason to believe he’d fail.

“It’s just the person that he is, the culture that he’s established,” quarterback Zach Collaros said at Wednesday’s celebration. “And really, he doesn’t just preach one thing and not live it. He lives the values of what he preaches to us every day. It’s easy to follow somebody like that.”

How many Winnipeg players you think would follow O’Shea to Edmonton if he went?

Most are free agents, including Collaros.

After talking to reporters, O’Shea took to the stage at the stadium and delivered a brief message that included these words:

“We’ll see what we can do in 2022.”

For Miller, locking up his head coach has to be the first thing he does.

That might even be more of a priority than his Christmas shopping.

And a big bear hug’s not enough.

pfriesen@postmedia.com

Twitter: @friesensunmedia

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