Honeymoon is over

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

Year 1, you're a breath of fresh air, the new guy brought in to clean up the old guy's mess. Expectations are muted. There's patience in abundance.

In Year 2, that all changes.

Doug Berry, welcome to Year 2.

When 9-9 won't be heralded as a turnaround season. When patience quickly begins to wear thin. When, if things don't go right early, the masses will begin to wonder if you're the right man for the job, after all.

The honeymoon, as it were, is over.

It's time to find out if the marriage between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their head coach is a long-term relationship, or a fleeting romance that wilts under the first signs of stress.

For what else was the 2006 season if not wedded bliss? Particularly after the dysfunctional final months of the Dave Ritchie regime, followed by the ill-advised and predictably short-lived rebound relationship with Jim Daley.

Berry walked down the aisle to cheers and confetti, a man groomed by the hated, yet envied, Montreal Alouettes, a first-time leading man who didn't act the part at all.

Straight-talking, yet optimistic, demanding, yet personable, and with a refreshing combination of humility and confidence, Berry rode into town brandishing a Grey Cup ring in his job interview.

But there wasn't a hint of Don Matthews brashness to be found. His old boss may have taught him a few things about Canadian football, but Berry was going to do this his way, with his own personality, and Bomber fans bought in like a Boxing Day shopper.

Those first several months, Berry seemed to push all the right buttons, too.

Fans weren't sure about their starting quarterback, and neither was the coach. Kevin Glenn would have to earn his job in training camp, and there was nothing wrong with that.

Charles Roberts, miffed at having competition? Welcome to Berry's world, where competition is a given.

Yes, it all seemed so fresh and new at this time, a year ago. Then a 5-2 start, with a defence on its way from worst to first. Talk about the perfect marriage. These two were made for each other.

And when an injury to Glenn derailed it all, how could you blame the head coach? That was the GM's problem. He's the one who didn't bring in a capable No. 2 quarterback.

Through it all, Berry brought this ship to the playoffs and to the brink of victory in the East semifinal. But he wasn't to blame when Glenn threw the pass that ended his team's last drive in Toronto. He wasn't the one suddenly missing tackles on defence.

No, in the final analysis, 9-9 and a playoff teaser -- considering the 5-13 mess this had been the year before -- was a job well done.

Hell, you can go 4-14 in Year 1 and get a reprieve, right Jeff Reinebold?

But a funny thing happens in Year 2.

The rose loses its bloom. Every loss feels like two. Every wrong decision is second-guessed three or four times.

There's devil in the details, too.

If and when Glenn tosses a game-turning interception this season, the blame will be shared between the passer and the coach who continues to stick with him. And why can't the coach develop a capable backup, anyway?

If the defence has a few bad games, suddenly it'll be as if Berry himself is getting beat deep. After all, isn't he the one with final say on the roster?

Injuries won't get him off the hook anymore, either. They happen to every team, right? Deal with it.

If things really start going in the wrong direction, coach, they might even start talking about the length of your contract.

It's not always fair. But it is what it is.

Sometimes Year 2 turns out to be a head coach's defining moment, played out over 19 weeks. Or more.

Beginning tonight, Doug Berry, the moment is yours.


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