Published on October 14, 2009 11:09 AM by dbo.
Just a month ago Blue Bomber coach Mike Kelly was facing media scrutiny and fan outrage over their 3-7 record following two back-to-back losses to their prairie rivals, the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Since then Kelly has steered the Bombers to a 3-1 record and a piece of second place in the East. During this turnaround he has shown a willingness to change from his earlier stubbornness. That appears to have been his redemption.
Following the team’s 55-10 loss to Saskatchewan on Bomber turf September 13, Kelly defended himself by challenging the media to Google him to see he had been successful elsewhere, especially offensively. Paul Friesen took the challenge and dug deeper into Kelly’s past head coaching record, finding a lot of similarities between Kelly’s stint as head man of Valdosta State University in Georgia and his brief time as head coach in Winnipeg. Both terms were marked by Kelly’s cockiness, outspoken demeanour and inability to identify a quarterback. Friesen found that Kelly was so hung up on having his career record be above .500 he repeatedly tried to get a game forfeited by a team for using ineligible players added to his win total. The article did not flatter Kelly’s accomplishments on the offensive side of the ball, his specialty, in many of the places he had been. The problems were perhaps only masked by having exceptional athletes (Matt Dunigan) during part of his terms.
Shortly after, a change in attitude with Mike Kelly started, perhaps after he saw how he appeared to others from the previous article. He admitted to few regrets, but did recognize not keeping a veteran quarterback around was a mistake. This is fundamental CFL roster basics — teams with all their hopes in one quarterback are at extreme risk if that QB goes down or does not perform. Committing to a inexperienced quarterback without any veteran or even game-tried backups behind him is even more risky. Unfortunately for Winnipeg, Mike Kelly only realized this mid-way through the season.
More recently, Kelly showed a humble side never displayed before. Coming in as head coach, he was the self-appointed quarterback guru and offensive coordinator. With ticket sales dwindling the team struggling, he admitted to taking too much on with both roles. Coincidently the teams fortunes started to change at the same time, first with wins against Toronto, then Edmonton and finally Hamilton.
Kelly is still the topic of Bomber articles, but now as an architect of the turnaround. The media has recognized that the reversal of fortune has not come without change in Kelly. First there was the necessary airlift of the experienced Michael Bishop to fill the QB role necessary after the lack-luster play and injury of Stefan LeFors. Then there was an adjustment of the offence to fit Bishop’s ability and the current CFL, which was a huge change from Kelly’s no-shotgun, 15-year old offence he deployed from training camp. With the jettison of some receivers who perhaps were not buying into the team anymore and the settling of the Barrin Simpson saga, the weekly crisis that has been a distraction for the Bombers through the season appear to be over. That, along with winning, has led to Mike Kelly’s redemption.
Will the fans come back? Has Kelly silenced his critics but not won them over? That remains to be seen. This turnaround was necessary for the team, though, even if they still fail to make the playoffs. If they had suffered through the rest of the season, fan support would have dwindled more and become more vocal, which may have forced the club to fire Kelly, which would have sent them back to square one. Kelly can continue to build on these changes and next year field a competitive team all season, completing his redemption from a willingness to change.