Kyle Walters calls hiring of Mike O’Shea ‘the best’ decision of his tenure as Blue Bombers’ GM

Photo: John Hodge/3DownNation

Kyle Walters has made a number of shrewd moves as the general manager of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but none that he considers better than the decision to hire Mike O’Shea back in December 2013.

“Of all the moves organizationally, hiring Mike has been the best one for sure,” Walters told 3DownNation during Grey Cup week. “I knew Mike personally from our Guelph days, coaching against him. I knew a lot about him and I knew this was the guy I wanted in charge of this organization. It was his first time as a head coach, my first time as a GM so there was a learning curve there.

“We started implementing the culture that Mike wanted and acquiring draft picks and holding onto draft picks, making sure that worked well, making sure our scouting department, (assistant general managers) Ted (Goveia) and Danny (McManus), were finding good American talent and then we did it right. We struggled early and kind of built with the guys that we wanted and got a little bit better, a little bit better, and a little bit better.”

O’Shea’s contract is set to expire in the coming days, though his two previous deals concluded before he signed extensions to remain with the team. He told the media last week that he and team president Wade Miller have spoken briefly since the Grey Cup, though he remains focused on exit interviews with players. He was coy when asked about his future but it’s clear how much he cares about the players in Winnipeg’s locker room.

There are currently two head coaching vacancies in the CFL as the Ottawa Redblacks and Montreal Alouettes look to hire new bench bosses. O’Shea indicated that he is not aware of any other team asking permission to speak with him regarding an interview. The Redblacks have already started interviewing candidates, while Montreal reportedly sought permission to interview potential candidates on Friday.

The Edmonton Elks were reportedly interested in hiring O’Shea in a dual role of head coach and general manager last off-season, though he turned down the opportunity to speak with them. When asked last week, O’Shea did not confirm or deny that he is interested in becoming a general manager in the future.

Walters was originally going to speak with the media on Friday but his availability was postponed due to what the team called a “timing conflict.” His press conference has yet to be rescheduled, though it is expected to take place this week.

Though he indicated during Grey Cup week that he and O’Shea speak every day in the club offices, Walters acknowledged that communication between the two has lessened over the years as they’ve garnered more experience working together.

“We used to have all these meetings and the yelling back and forth,” said Walters. “Those days are done. We just get along, we understand when there’s a point that I need to make from a cap standpoint or from a roster standpoint, I’ll sort of mention it, ‘Here’s what I think we should do, put some thought into it.’

“We’ll talk about the best roster, the injuries for the week. It’s just quick and easy morning meetings. We’ve evolved just to kind of understand the way each other’s wired and understand how we think that the meetings are very quick and efficient.”

The Blue Bombers were unable to complete a Grey Cup three-peat in Regina, though Walters spoke to how close this year’s team was, saying they are possibly the most tight-knit team he’s ever seen. It’s clear that O’Shea is the primary driver behind the culture that has transformed the Blue Bombers from a doormat the league’s flagship team.

“We’ve kept a group of leaders on each side of the ball and they’ve brought the younger guys up, brought them in and the new guys have bought in. It just seems similar year-to-year with the philosophy that we try to have, the core values of playing for each other that Mike instills and the team is more important. All the standard stuff that you guys hear from Mike over and over again. It just keeps growing — that’s building and getting stronger.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.