Despite changing head coaches, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are staying with the same offensive coordinator they had to end last season, which on its surface is curious. After all, this was a team that finished dead last in 17 of the 30 offensive statistical categories tracked weekly by the CFL, including points per game (20.1), yards per game (281.4), yards gained per pass (6.7) and yards gained per rush (5.1, tied with Montreal for lowest). However, keep in mind that that OC, former Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille, was only brought in midway through the season (first as a consultant, then elevated to OC a week later after Gary Crowton was fired), and it's difficult to completely overhaul an offence midway through the year given the CFL's limited practice times. As Melissa Martin writes in The Winnipeg Free Press, Bellefeuille said this week he plans to make dramatic changes this offseason:
"In terms of challenges last year, they were obviously evident," Bellefeuille said. "We couldn’t change an offence halfway through… There will be pretty much complete overhaul of offence."
Bellefeuille said he plans to retain about 20 per cent of the concepts from last season, and will tweak plans as the team gets a better sense of what their roster could look like for 2014. The biggest question mark remains around the quarterback position, where Max Hall did show improvement as the year went on but still often looked unready for a full-time starting pivot role.
"I feel like we can get better in every area," Bellefeuille said about the personnel situation. "I’m very excited about how Max picked up his game, and started to be more productive. Obviously we’d like to get better at every position, and that will be an ongoing process."
"When we got a chance to sit down and chat, there were ideas and concepts that he was passionate about that just resonated with me in the way that I think offensive football in the CFL should be played,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said Wednesday during a conference call.
“There are just certain things that I’ve paid attention to and tried to defend over the course of my playing time and watched when I was a coach that I thought could be taken advantage of more. And he hit home on all those ideas. It was like he read my notes. It was a good decision and an easy decision.”
The only other known candidate was Roughriders quarterbacks coach Khari Jones. Winnipeg’s atrocious offence during the 2013 season — the last half of which was under Bellefeuille’s watch after the Bombers fired Gary Crowton — wasn’t enough to scare off O’Shea.
“Marcel was brought in part way through, and he used a playbook that wasn’t his and terminology that wasn’t his and tried to help out in that way,” O’Shea said. “Although it was a valiant effort, I understand there might be some questions about the end result. But give Marcel a training camp with his own book and his own terminology and his ability to coach the players the way he wants them coached, and you’re going to see a markedly different result.”
There were certainly other candidates out there, including Jones, former B.C. offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine and a variety of other quarterback or receiver coaches across the league. Thus, it's interesting that the Bombers elected to carry over Bellefeuille, especially considering his association with last year's dreadful team. That suggests O'Shea not only was impressed with Bellefeuille's plan, but didn't think he was particularly responsible for Winnipeg's previous struggles. Bellefeuille's substantial previous CFL experience as both an offensive coordinator and a head coach could also be valuable, as O'Shea's in his first season as a head coach; Bellefeuille can potentially offer advice on game-planning, challenges and late-game decisions. This move's a little risky for the Bombers, as Bellefeuille is somewhat tainted by last year's struggles and may not be the most popular hire from a fan perspective. However, it's one that could definitely work. A lot depends on if general manager Kyle Walters is able to improve Winnipeg's offensive personnel, and if Bellefeuille is then able to install a system that maximizes those players' talents. If he can do that, the dismal offence of 2013 may be but a memory...