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May 3, 2016

BLOG: Wrapping Up 2015

photography: Johany Jutras

 

THE SEASON

 

As we flew home from Toronto Saturday morning, another season in the books, I found myself reflecting on the season, replaying each game in my mind. As the famous Bill Parcells quote goes, “you are what your record says you are.” We finished the season at 5-13. The numbers don’t lie. But upon closer inspection, it’s easy to identify turning points along the way that proved to be critical in our season.

Week 4 in Calgary: We are 2-1, and playing pretty solid football. That one-point loss to the defending champions stung, and it was a game – had we been able to pull it off – that could have spring boarded us to a 3-1 record and a much better position in the following game against Edmonton.

The week 7 loss in Hamilton was not only a difficult one, but a major blow to the team after losing our starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. Both Coach O’Shea and GM Kyle Walters remained optimistic and asserted that we still needed to find a way to win. Sure. But the fact of the matter is, we played eleven-and-a-half games without Drew, and managed to win only two of those games. His injury, though many other factors came into play, essentially derailed our season.

Stronger depth at quarterback was needed, and Kyle did what he could do to improve on that. But Drew Willy is a very important key to this franchise, and I really look forward to having him back out there in 2016. With a few additional changes, I think it will be an exciting group to watch.

 

THE HEAD COACH

 

For a guy who holds the title of most games played by a defensive player, won four Grey Cups, and is second in league history in tackles, his toughness sure gets put into question frequently. Many times throughout the season, including in his end of year address Tuesday, he was asked why he doesn’t show more emotion, (i.e. getting after players on the sidelines during a game) for everyone to see.

Have you ever heard the saying “don’t believe everything you read?” Well, don’t believe everything you see, either. His ‘calm’ demeanor on the sidelines is often misconstrued, because he’s the type of guy that can send Goosebumps down your spine simply by looking at you.

Fans didn’t hear him walk up to a player this season and say, “you ever do that again I’ll cut your *** right on the *** sidelines.” They didn’t see him storm into the locker room at halftime of a road game this year, and with the room dead silent say, “that’s the most embarrassing half of football I have EVER been a part of.” Fans don’t see the look in his eyes as he roams the locker room at halftime, diminishing players to a cower for taking a stupid penalty.

People say Coach O’Shea isn’t emotional. Ask any player, and they will agree, he is hands-down one of the most emotional people I have ever met. He commands the respect of our locker room like no coach I have ever worked with, and as he told me the other day, “We WILL get this right. We have to.” I’ve seen and heard a lot here over the course of seven years, and without hesitation, I believe that statement wholeheartedly.

 

THE COORDINATORS

 

A tough decision was made this week in deciding to not renewing the contract of our offensive coordinator. It produced somewhat of an interesting storyline – that Mike O’Shea doesn’t know how to hire coordinators. Yes, he has made changes to three coordinator positions in two years. But there is a bit of an underlying story to this that is worth sharing.

When CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters, and Head Coach Mike O’Shea took the reins of this franchise, we were troubled in many aspects, including the perception of the franchise around the league. Free agents didn’t want to come here, and coaches didn’t either. When Coach O’Shea took over, his first call was to a now offensive coordinator who is having immense success at that position, but the offer was declined. Mike’s next call was to a high-profile defensive specialist. Again, the offer was declined. Wade, Kyle and Mike not only had to deal with the mess that was the roster, but the perception that Winnipeg wasn’t an ideal destination to coach or play either.

The good news is that perception is changing. Stability and continuity at the high-level positions are in place, and high-prized free agents, who could have chosen to go anywhere, are now choosing Winnipeg (think of Jamaal Westerman and Ian Wild among others). A few nights ago, in casual conversation, I asked a player who chose Winnipeg over other markets this season knowing full well the money was equal, why Winnipeg? His answer might surprise you: “Winnipeg operates like an NFL team now. The other places don’t. And even though the team isn’t winning, I felt it was headed north.”

Sure, none of this matters if the team doesn’t win. But one of the first ways to start winning is to be able to attract and hire the right people, whether it be a coach or a player. Almost every winning organization in sports is thought of as an ‘elite organization’. That’s not a coincidence. I think we’ve changed perception, now we need to improve the record.

On behalf of our entire organization, I want to extend a sincere thank you to our great fan base. It was a frustrating season, and we honestly understand full well the thoughts of many. Nobody wants it more than we do. If I can say so, and maybe it isn’t worth a damn, but I have personally have been around through the rough times, with not much hope or promise. That simply isn’t the case anymore, and that’s why I can write this with confidence and conviction. Things are different. And we hope we can show you that through this offseason and into 2016.

 

Have a topic you’d like me to write on? Send me your blog ideas on Twitter throughout the offseason @darren_cameron.

Talk soon,

Darren