Board in tough spot

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

The words sounded almost like a challenge.

Lyle Bauer, boss of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, not long ago said head coach Mike Kelly would be back next season -- unless somebody higher than him had something to say about it.

Well, today they get their chance.

The community-owned football team's board of directors meets this evening, along with Bauer, for the first time since the end of the 2009 campaign.

It's just the start of the standard year-end review process, says chairman Ken Hildahl.

Of course, 2009 was anything but a standard year.

Oh, this club's had worse seasons on the field than the forgettable, 7-11 campaign that left the Bombers out of the CFL's inclusive playoff picture, where six of eight teams make it.

But I can't recall a worse season off it, one in which the franchise took such a public pounding it could have been called the Blue and Black, rather than the Blue and Gold.

Kelly bashing former GM Brendan Taman. His complete lack of regard for the media. The way he alienated fans, by insulting them on his radio show or cutting off their phone calls altogether.

Things got so bad, word is a fan threw something at Kelly after a game.

True or not, the fence lining the field, where players walk to the locker-room after games, was fortified and moved back midway through the season.

The coach closed out the year by getting into an expletive-laced war of words with an opposing player in the final game.

Kelly's personality aside, his chief area of responsibility within the team, the offence, was an unmitigated disaster. His quarterbacks the worst producers in the league.

So, to review, the head coach, in his two main functions -- providing a public face for the franchise and developing the offence -- performed well below expectations.

But when the board asks the president/CEO for his report on the head of the football operation, Bauer will recommend Kelly return for a second season. We know this because Bauer has already told us.

How the 11 board members react, given the tumultuous nature of the year that was, remains to be seen.

"They're all tumultuous, in their own way," Hildahl told the Sun yesterday. "They really are. I don't think I've ever come out of a year, yet, where there haven't been people screaming to get rid of the coach. You'd be surprised. It's a normal routine. To what degree, obviously. Every year we get a certain element. And you get the other element. I hear from both sides, on a regular basis.

"Every season has its highs and lows. We'll review those and determine the plan moving forward."

The easy way out would be status quo.

Forcing Bauer to change head coaches is a move that could cost this organization as much as $1 million over the next year, alone.

Start with the $200,000, minimum, Kelly's contract calls for next year. The seven assistant coaches, all of whom Kelly signed to two-year deals, earn an average of maybe $80,000. That's another $560,000 -- unless a few are retained, which isn't unheard of.

And if the board is overruling Bauer's recommendation, wouldn't they have to fire him, too? Bauer, who's been around 10 years now, has to earn $350,000, I'd guess.

That's, potentially, more than $1 million, all told. There would also be a hit on the 2011 books.

But what's the higher cost: firing the head coach, or keeping him -- which, if Year 1 is any indication, could cost hundreds of thousands in ticket revenue, corporate support, and just plain good will?

And how about the long-term damage?

This one's a challenge, all right.

Still think you'd like to be a Bomber board member?

And to think, they're all volunteers.

They're all fans, though, too.

Some of whom might have had enough.

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

BOMBER BOARD

Ken Hildahl, chair

Joe Poplawski

Paul Robson

Gene Dunn

Bruce Robinson

Jeff Thompson

Eugene Kostyra

Debbie Metcalfe

Chrys Pappas

Brock Bulbuck

Bill Watchorn


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