If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' decision to stick with the general manager that brought them to a disastrous 6-12 season and the coach who put up a 4-6 record that maybe wasn't as impressive as it looked wasn't enough to discourage fans' optimism about 2013, their latest rumoured move might be just the thing. According to reports from both Winnipeg and Hamilton, the team has secretly fired linebackers coach Chip Garber and looks set to replace him with Hamilton defensive coordinator Casey Creehan. (Head coach Tim Burke started the year as defensive coordinator and kept that title after taking the head coaching job, but it's likely that Creehan would pick up the DC title for 2013 if he makes the move). Following the 2011 season, where Creehan's work with the Bombers' linebackers was cited as a key factor in their run to the Grey Cup, this would make some sense, but considering that he's coming off a 2012 campaign in Hamilton that might be one of the most disastrous full seasons ever recorded by a CFL defensive coordinator, this would hardly be an inspiring addition, to say the least.
Heading into the season, many had a lot of optimism about Creehan. He was young and energetic, had found success in Winnipeg, and drew plenty of attention both when he was hired and for his vocal presence on the sidelines in training camp (something he also showed during a miked-up 2011 segment in Winnipeg). There was a lot of talk that he'd have been named Hamilton's defensive coordinator regardless of if they chose George Cortez or Burke (the runner-up) as head coach. Moreover, he had plenty of talent to work with; the Tiger-Cats had arguably the most talented returning linebacking corps in the league with Jamall Johnson, Rey Williams and Markeith Knowlton (Johnson and Williams were both divisional all-stars in 2011, while Knowlton was the league's top defensive player in 2010), were adding Canadian Kevin Eiben to that mix, made nice free-agent additions on the defensive line (Greg Peach, Jermaine McElveen) and according to Creehan at least, there was "no question" they had the talent they needed in the secondary. That looked like a recipe for a solid defence. Instead, it proved to be a recipe for disaster.
Just how bad was the Hamilton defence under Creehan? Well, there are 25 defensive statistics tracked by the CFL in the weekly "League Stats" release for media. In the final one, posted after the regular season wrapped up last Sunday, the Tiger-Cats were dead last in 11 of those categories (more than any other team), including such crucial ones as points allowed (32.0), first downs allowed (429) and passing yards against (305.7 per game). They were also second-last in eight more categories, including offensive yards allowed per game (409.9), gain allowed per rush (5.9 yards), opposing passes completed (416), and quarterback sacks (31). That porous defence meant even Hamilton's league-best offence in terms of points per game (29.9) and the second-best in terms of yards per game (378.6) was getting outscored and outgained on average, and that was a key reason why the Tiger-Cats finished 6-12, last in the league.
By contrast, in 2011 when Corey Chamblin (now Saskatchewan's head coach) was the Hamilton defensive coordinator, the Tiger-Cats' defence still had its issues, but was only last in two categories at the end of the season (interceptions and interception return yards). Their 2011 defence also conceded 375.9 yards per game (second-worst in the league that year, but 34 yards per game better than the 2012 unit) and 26.6 points per game (third-worst in the league that year, but 5.4 points better than the 2012 edition). Some of the Tiger-Cats' defensive issues precede Creehan, of course, and losing co-CFL sack leader Justin Hickman to the NFL in the offseason certainly didn't help, but it's hard not to see his tenure as making that defence substantially worse. In fact, that's probably one of the worst defensive seasons ever posted in the CFL, particularly by a defensive coordinator who somehow miraculously survived the year despite continual rumours (starting as early as July!) that he wouldn't. How that makes you a candidate for anyone at defensive coordinator is beyond the comprehension of this corner.
Could Creehan succeed in Winnipeg? Of course. His previous tenure there as a linebackers' coach was solid, and he's shown he can work with Burke (moreover, given Burke's defensive background, the Bombers' defence is likely to be more Burke's scheme than Creehan's). Perhaps Burke prizes familiarity, too, which could explain why he'd want Creehan over someone who's impressed lately. Still, when you post a historically bad season as a defensive coordinator and not only haven't been fired yet, but are apparently in demand for that job elsewhere, that's pretty amazing. It bodes well for Creehan, but perhaps not for Bombers' fans.