Nine months ago, they thought Mike Kelly was the perfect choice as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
With the team floundering at 3-7 and the vultures beginning to circle, Bluto and Kindly Cal continue to stand by the Professor.
Chris Walby, aka Bluto, was the Bombers’ future Hall of Fame O-lineman when Kelly was offensive co-ordinator from 1992-96, and Cal Murphy was the head coach.
Both were big fans of Kelly when he was hired, and remain in his corner today — although Walby can’t recall a season that’s been so stormy off the field, not even the one where Murphy underwent a heart transplant, midseason, only to return for the Grey Cup.
“It’s a weird year,” Walby said. “He’s a guy that wanted this job so bad, and he decided it’s going to be his way or the highway. He’s going to die by his sword. And he’s got it sharp. I still think he’s going to turn this around. I really do.”
Yes, Walby scratches his head at the run-one-day, pass-the-next, offence.
Yes, he’d like to see Kelly run five- and six-receiver sets more often.
And no, he doesn’t understand why Barrin Simpson’s been demoted.
But one thing the former CBC-TV colour analyst is certain of: that Bomber locker-room would not be a happy place these days.
“Nobody’s going to tell you what the locker-room’s like,” he said. “I understand what the players are doing. You can’t come out and say our locker-room’s in total disarray. That’s the one thing you have to keep together.
“But I’d be very surprised if these guys are going in there high-fiving each other or hugging each other, and saying, ‘Good job, we’ll get ’em next time.’ I guarantee there’s gotta be some stacks going off.”
Walby says in his day it wasn’t uncommon for the defense to get in the face of the offense when they couldn’t put it together.
“It got personal,” Walby said. “There were more fights in our locker room. I’m not saying that’s how you have to do it. That’s just how it was.”
Back then, it was also like this: the Bombers almost always had a very good player leading the huddle: from Brock to Hufnagel and Clements to Burgess to Dunigan.
“One of the things Cal did was he made sure we had great quarterbacks,” Walby said. “I watched Kevin Glenn the other day play in Hamilton and I thought he played pretty dang good. I’m a believer in keeping your veterans. Right now they’re a little bit deer-in-the-headlights.”
Murphy isn’t sure Kelly should have kept Glenn and his front-loaded contract, but he says a better gunslinger would have kept his friend from getting into this mess.
“It’s tough going through it,” Murphy said. “You wouldn’t wish that on your worst enemy. You hope things work out for him. Things would work out a lot better if you had somebody behind the centre. If you don’t have one, it’s awfully difficult to do it.”
From 1992-94, Murphy and Kelly had Matt Dunigan, who, on a good day, could have made Peewee Herman look like an offensive genius.
In 1995 and ’96, AD (after Dunigan), things didn’t go so well, and Murphy was told to take his three Grey Cup rings and ride off into the sunset.
Neither Kindly Cal nor Bluto want to see that happen to the Professor.
“I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to throw the oars out of the boat just because we’re not running right now,” Walby said. “This is his time now. The first part of the year, let’s forget about it. This is what he’s going to get judged on.”
We’ll give the final words of advice to the Professor’s mentor.
“Stay under the desk until they quit firing at you,” Murphy said, chuckling like a man who dodged bullets for a long time.
His protégé would have been wise to learn that trick.
Since he apparently missed the lesson about the trigger man.