Kelly eating humble pie

Bombers head coach Mike Kelly and quarterback Casey Bramlet watch practice this week in Winnipeg....

Bombers head coach Mike Kelly and quarterback Casey Bramlet watch practice this week in Winnipeg. (Sun Media/Brian Donogh)

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

21,018.

The number is as chilling as yesterday's stiff breeze, and if it doesn't send a shiver through the suits that run the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, I don't know what will.

The Edmonton Eskimos, normally one of the better draws in the CFL in this town, are paying the Bombers a visit tonight, and the ticket count, as of late yesterday, was abysmal, to say the least.

That despite president/CEO Lyle Bauer's best efforts to let everyone know the game will be blacked out on the tube.

By comparison, a visit by the Green and Gold at this time last year, the Bombers holding the identical 4-8 record they hold today, drew nearly 30,000.

Coming on the heels of a similarly embarrassing number against Toronto last week, and with three more home games to go, this could get expensive. As in, seven-figure expensive.

Bomber fans are turned off like they haven't been in years, and it seems to me they're sending a message, loud and clear.

That's why it's so interesting to see the change in head coach Mike Kelly these days.

I don't know if it's the 4-8 record talking, or a realization he might actually be costing this franchise big dollars, or if someone's simply had a talk with him.

But these days the Professor seems, dare we say it, almost humble?

Take yesterday, when I asked him if he was going to get back into calling the plays again, a duty he passed off to assistant Manny Matsakis a couple of weeks ago.

"We're hitting a pretty good stride right now," Kelly said. "And I don't want to screw it up."

It used to be he'd say things like that as a joke. Only this time, he wasn't laughing.

Then there's the way the Professor talks about his quarterback these days.

Not long ago Michael Bishop's play was like a box of chocolates, remember?

"That chocolate comment was fitting at the time," Kelly began. "We weren't quite sure what we were going to get. But a lot of that comes back to me. Maybe I should have flipped open the box. Now they give you a map that says the coconut's over here, and the caramel is over here. I know where our coconuts and our caramels are a little bit better than I did before."

In football parlance, the Professor seems to have finally figured out what a little variety -- some motion, five-receiver sets and, yes, a little shotgun formation -- can do for an attack.

Kelly went on to acknowledge he and the rest of the team's decision-makers haven't handled adversity very well, either, that they circled the wagons too tight.

"As an entire organization. When bullets start flying at you from all different directions and you're not sure where they're coming from, you kind of tighten up together," Kelly said. "That's not how we operate the best. We're a pretty fun group."

The Professor even admitted he'd had too much on his plate, had become a "jack of all trades and master of none," the opposite of what he said when it was first suggested he get some help for his pitiful offence.

Coincidentally, Kelly's comments came in the same room as the ones he made Dec. 2, his first day on the job, when he made the statement that earned him the reputation as a self-described quarterback guru.

"You're looking at the offensive co-ordinator," Kelly said that day. "And no one's touching the quarterbacks but me."

Reminded yesterday how far he's deviated from that plan, Kelly took one last mouthful of his homemade humble pie.

"You learn," he said. "This has been good for me. I never said that I would know-all, be-all. I'm learning as I go."

No bluster. No braggadocio.

21,018.

It's a humbling number.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


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