Short shopping list

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

For those of us who make our living spilling ink over the comings and goings in toyland, there's nothing quite like the hiring and firing of head coaches.

The firings usually come not out of the blue, but after a buildup of tension, with plenty of warning signs. See the removal of Doug Berry by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a couple of weeks ago.

That's when things normally get really interesting.

The search for a replacement always starts with an initial list of candidates, eventually reduced to a short list. The early front-runner rarely holds the lead to the finish line, with a late charge from a surprise candidate not uncommon.

It's a plot line that constantly moves and can be nearly impossible to pin down, making it a sportswriter's dream and nightmare, at the same time.

That is usually how it works.

Then there's the current search for the new Bomber boss. And we use the term "search" lightly.

Well-placed sources told us from Day 1 that Mike Kelly was the front-runner, a slam-dunk, even.

Two weeks later, he appears to be the only one still in talks with Bombers president/CEO Lyle Bauer. No doubt they're negotiating everything from his salary to the colour of furniture in his office.

The question is, how many candidates actually were on Bauer's radar? We don't know for sure, but it's fewer than you may think. Certainly not the half dozen he's suggested.

More notable is who wasn't even considered by Bauer, at least, considered seriously enough to warrant an interview.

Calgary Stampeders offensive co-ordinator George Cortez, fresh off a Grey Cup championship and MVP-type season from quarterback Henry Burris?

Nope. Cortez tells us he didn't get a sniff.

How about highly regarded Saskatchewan defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall?

Uh-uh. Hall says he didn't rate an interview, either.

Then there's Tom Higgins, the former Edmonton and Calgary boss who spent this past season as the CFL's director of officiating.

Higgins says he didn't land a face-to-face with Bauer, either, wasn't even approached.

That's three of the most obvious candidates, with dozens of years of CFL experience, and plenty of success, under their belts -- and nary a poke or prod from Bauer.

At the same time, I'm told Bauer considered one or two people working in the U.S., but no household names.

So it was between Kelly, current Bomber defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall and maybe a mystery candidate or two.

And this is a thorough search?

This is what you do to try to end an 18-year Grey Cup drought, the longest dry spell in the CFL?

This is how you replace a guy who still had two years left on his contract, a deal that cost you a couple hundred thousand bucks to shed, and one you signed off on just six months earlier?

Bauer's nine-year reign as Bomber uber-boss has included plenty of highlights, many of them off the field. The shedding of more than $5 million in debt comes to mind.

But it's also included the firing of three head coaches, the promotion of his player personnel boss to GM, then his demotion back to personnel.

What it hasn't included is a Grey Cup.

That was to be Bauer's top priority, now. It's why he took charge of this hiring, wresting the duties back from Brendan Taman.

We even suggested in this space this hire could be Bauer's going-away present, a chance to leave the franchise in good hands as it goes private, likely next year.

Well, unless we're missing something, there either wasn't a lot of thought put into this gift, or Bauer found such a perfect choice so early on in his shopping, there was no need to visit any other stores.

Mike Kelly will, eventually, provide the answer.


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