How Pinball’s hiring could affect the Blue Bombers

What do front office changes in Toronto have to do with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?

A lot more than you’d think.

Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons was introduced as the Toronto Argonauts’ new general manager on Tuesday after Jim Popp was fired in his third year with the team.

Corey Chamblin is under contract with the Argonauts through 2021, which means he will be in the running to remain the club’s head coach next season. Given his team’s struggles, however, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Clemons hire a new bench boss next season.

Enter Mike O’Shea (maybe).

Clemons and O’Shea worked together closely in Toronto for 11 years, first as teammates (1996-1999) and later as a coach and player (2001-2007). Clemons was also the vice-chairman in Toronto when O’Shea was hired as the team’s special teams coordinator in 2010.

The two have a strong relationship and share similar philosophies. They are also two of the most recognizable figures in the modern history of the Argonauts.

If you want to change the culture in Toronto — and win back fans in the process — you can’t do much better than Clemons and O’Shea.

Some may wonder why O’Shea would leave Winnipeg, which is a fair question.

O’Shea is the CFL’s longest-tenured head coach and his club recently clinched a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive season. The Blue Bombers are 54-51 under his watch and he remains popular with players and members of his coaching staff.

Looking deeper, the number of reasons O’Shea why could leave add up quickly.

O’Shea has strong ties to southern Ontario. Born in North Bay, O’Shea played at the University of Guelph before spending his 16-year CFL career with Hamilton and Toronto.

His son (also named Mike) is now playing football for his alma mater. O’Shea is Guelph royalty — he holds a number of team records and was inducted to the Gryphon Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. Doesn’t it make sense for O’Shea to move closer to his son? His community?

There’s also the fact that O’Shea isn’t under contract for next season. That’s not because the Bombers haven’t offered him a new contract — it’s because O’Shea chose not to commit to Winnipeg beyond 2019.

Turning down a contract extension — which he’s done multiple times, per source — could be a negotiating tactic, but the CFL’s operations cap prevents teams from spending lucrative amounts of money on coaches.

If O’Shea departs for Toronto, three candidates will top Winnipeg’s wish list to become the club’s next head coach.

Paul LaPolice has coveted a second head coaching opportunity since he was fired by Joe Mack in 2012. He already has extensive control over the team’s offensive personnel, so wearing the big headset — with protege Buck Pierce presumably taking over as offensive coordinator — would make for a smooth transition.

Khari Jones has been excellent in Montreal since taking over as the team’s head coach just prior to the regular season. Jones has strong ties to Winnipeg and has a close relationship with club CEO Wade Miller — the two were teammates for five years (2000-2004). He is not under contract with the Alouettes beyond this season.

Tommy Condell has excelled as the offensive coordinator in Hamilton, taking over for the departed June Jones. Condell has a close relationship with star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who happens to be a pending free agent. If the Blue Bombers covet Masoli — and they should — hiring Condell could help lure Masoli to Winnipeg.

There’s no guarantee that O’Shea will leave the Blue Bombers this off-season, but there are people around the CFL who believe it’s entirely possible that he will be in Toronto in 2020.

The Argonauts and Blue Bombers don’t have much in common. The teams don’t share a division and their records are very different.

But until Mike O’Shea decides where he’s coaching next season, they share a pretty significant connection.

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