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CFL's football operations cap throws wrench into coaching carousel

This just in; timing may not be everything.

You might think Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea hit it on the screws when he bet on himself and allowed his contract to expire at the end of this season, rather than negotiate an extension with GM Kyle Walters.

After all, O’Shea just guided the Bombers through the season-ending injury to starting QB Matt Nichols and the drug-related suspension of star running back Andrew Harris to a Grey Cup victory over Hamilton, the team with the best regular-season record. The Bombers won two playoff games on the road to get there, and that’s no small feat either.

Prior to kickoff in Calgary, Walters said the two had reached a verbal agreement for O’Shea to return. Then the Bombers pulled off an upset and the price for O’Shea’s continued services should have gone up. In theory. If not, where is the incentive?

However, the Bombers still have to comply with the CFL’s football operations salary cap, which was set at $2.588 million for both 2019 and 2020. It covers as many as 11 coaches, as well as 14 other personnel including general manager, assistant GM, scouts and training staff.

If O’Shea gets a significant salary bump as a “job well done” bonus, somebody else on the Winnipeg staff is going to take a hit, or refuse that cut, lose his job, and be replaced by somebody cheaper. While that might still seem like a win for O’Shea, the Bombers are all about stability and consistency. Losing tenured assistants because of financial constraints isn’t in their game plan.

According to sources, that’s what happened in Calgary, where 12-year assistant Pete Costanza parted ways with the Stampeders, though Costanza told media it was his choice to leave.

That is most assuredly what happened last off-season in Edmonton, when former defensive co-ordinator Mike Benevides chose to leave his post rather than accept a 30% pay cut being proferred by GM Brock Sunderland. It’s believed former player personnel man Paul Jones was looking at the same financial reality in Edmonton, and high-tailed it for Saskatchewan as assistant GM. Benevides landed a job as an analyst with TSN.

Though he did a great job on the TSN panel, the well-dressed and well-spoken Benevides has made it clear he wants to jump back into a coaching job. It’s what he does, and does best. Sources said he has been told that he’s in the mix. But where does he fit?

There are now head coaching vacancies in Edmonton, where Jason Maas was fired on Wednesday; Ottawa where Rick Campbell quit shortly after leading the Redblacks to a dismal 3-15 record; and B.C., where GM Ed Hervey fired first-year head coach DeVone Claybrooks after a 5-13 debut.

Whenever those positions are filled, the coaching carousel will rev up.

If, for instance, Winnipeg’s brilliant offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice gets the head coaching job with either B.C. or Edmonton, could Winnipeg’s quarterbacks coach Buck Pierce step up into LaPolice’s role, or does an outside candidate get that job? And, does LaPolice do double duty as head coach and OC in Edmonton or B.C.? The operations cap makes that a likely scenario, as Khari Jones, who just signed a three-year deal to stay in Montreal, is doing both those jobs.

Furthermore, if Campbell is hired by Hervey, does he bring Maas with him as OC?

Calgary’s quarterbacks coach, Ryan Dinwiddie, has apparently talked to the Argos and will interview in Ottawa. The Stamps’ special teams co-ordinator, Mark Kilam, has already spoken to the Redblacks.

If Dinwiddie gets a job elsewhere, does Stamps’ running backs coach Marc Mueller, the grandson of the late Ron Lancaster, move up to a new role?

There are other candidates with name recognition waiting in the wings, too.

Former Edmonton and Montreal head coach Tom Higgins wants a job as a position coach. Hall of Fame quarterback Damon Allen told Postmedia last week that he has hired agent Gil Scott to help find him a job as an offensive co-ordinator.

Allen lives in Toronto, where the Argos are apparently ready to shake up head coach Corey Chamblin’s staff. It appears Chamblin himself will survive the re-organization, in part because he is well paid and the Argos are already on the hook for the salary of former GM Jim Popp, who was fired this season, and former head coach Marc Trestman, who was fired at the end of 2018.

They will get some financial relief from an operations cap rule that allows a team to amortize a fired coach’s salary over five years. Each team is also allowed a free pass on a termination amount once every five years.

In general, the cap has received mixed reviews from CFL coaches and managers this year, and a discussion of possible tweaks to its rules will be on the docket at league meetings in January.

By then, most of those coaching vacancies will be filled and the carousel will stop spinning.