Bombers' coach has sights set on winning another Grey Cup, not repeating
Mike O'Shea has moved on from the euphoria of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' 2019 Grey Cup victory.
Winnipeg ended its dubious Grey Cup drought with a stunning 33-12 victory over the favoured Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Calgary on Nov. 24. The win earned the Blue Bombers their first CFL championship since 1990.
Predictably, the win was heartily received in Winnipeg and by the franchise's long-suffering fans everywhere. But for O'Shea, the Bombers head coach, the Grey Cup championship is in the rear-view mirror as he's now preparing for the 2020 campaign.
"Yeah, it's back to work," O'Shea said this week during the CFL's winter meetings, which concluded Thursday in Collingwood, Ont. "We had our fun, we enjoyed the success of the season.
"Now it's time to figure out the 2020 version of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers."
The win was a significant one for O'Shea. Not only was it his fifth Grey Cup title — three as a player, two as a coach — but O'Shea's first as a head coach.
However, O'Shea said moving on is sometimes easier said than done when he's out and about in the community.
"I wouldn't say it's easy," he said. "Everywhere you go, there's a lot of people who are still so happy and excited and have their personal stories that want to share, which is great.
"There's still so much raw emotion, but in the office, it's pretty easy. You're contained within your walls and have work to do."
And plenty of questions remain.
Following the historic Grey Cup win, defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo (San Francisco) and defensive backs Winston Rose (Cincinnati) and Marcus Sayles (Minnesota) all signed NFL deals. And quarterback Zach Collaros, who led Winnipeg on its season-ending four-game win streak, headlines the 19 Bombers players set to become free agents Feb. 11.
But the burning question of who'll be Winnipeg's 2020 starter — former No. 1 Matt Nichols and backup Chris Streveler are both also pending free agents — will have to wait. O'Shea has a vacancy on his staff to fill after offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice left to become the Ottawa Redblacks' head coach.
"We're getting that figured out right now and things should be finalized in short order," said the 49-year-old native of North Bay, Ont. "I think we'll want to have better discussions with the entire staff to make sure we're doing things right in that regard."
There's certainly clarity regarding the status of O'Shea and GM Kyle Walters. Winnipeg signed O'Shea — a 2017 inductee into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Museum — to a new three-year deal last month while extending Walters through 2023, ensuring continuity for a franchise that's recorded four straight double-digit-win seasons.
And while roster change is inevitable this season, O'Shea, who's entering his seventh season with the Bombers, said the message in Winnipeg will remain the same.
"I think we'll stay pretty consistent with our approach, what we believe in and what we try to instill to our players," O'Shea said. "I believe we do a good job of finding the right players who fit what we need and give our team opportunities to win games.
"I believe we do a good job of evaluating the talent we have. I think this year we showed we were able to be creative and make the necessary steps during the season."
O'Shea, for one, has no qualms with CFL players leaving to test their mettle south of the border.
"I'm happy for them," he said. "I think it's your job as a head coach to try and give them support and help them realize a dream they've had since they were a kid."
O'Shea said the Bombers are looking to win a title in 2020 with a clean slate rather than as a defence of their 2019 Grey Cup crown.
"We're looking to win a championship in 2020," he said. "What I know is this will be a different team with possibly a different skillset and different attributes.
"It'll be a different journey. It was an interesting journey in 2019 and I know 2020 will be interesting also but maybe for different reasons."
And O'Shea has no issue with the Bombers wearing a bullseye this season.
"I think you enter every contest believing you're going to get your opponent's best," O'Shea said. "I think most pro athletes feel if you're able to give more in one contest than another, then you're cheating your teammates, right?
"So I think you enter every contest believing you're going to get your opponents best and expecting to give your best. If you can't, you shouldn't play football that way."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2020.
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