Board backs Kelly

PAUL FRIESEN

, Last Updated: 6:02 AM ET

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are poised to remove the uncertainty swirling around the franchise since the season ended.

Some of it, anyway.

The Bombers are planning a news conference for this afternoon, at which the club, likely represented by board chairman Ken Hildahl, is expected to announce that head coach Mike Kelly will return for a second season.

The future of president/CEO Lyle Bauer is not as clear.

Sources requesting anonymity say Bauer's future remains up in the air, after 10 years in the organization's big chair.

"There's still a grey area," one CFL source said. "There's nothing definitive."

Hildahl and Bauer wouldn't return requests for comment, but it's expected Bauer will take part in today's announcement by phone from the U.S., even though his status may remain uncertain.

A source said last night the situation is so fluid it could change by this afternoon's media briefing.

What is all but certain -- 80-90%, one source said -- is Kelly's return, albeit under some conditions.

It's believed the 11-person Bomber board is insisting Kelly take his hands off the offence and hire an experienced CFL coach to be the co-ordinator.

It's expected Kelly will comply with the demand, knowing it's the only way to keep his job.

In his first season the rookie coach vowed to be the only one touching his quarterbacks, a plan that failed miserably.

The Bombers were repeatedly held back by their anemic attack, particularly through the air, where they were ranked dead-last in the league.

Unproven quarterback Stefan LeFors, anointed the starter by Kelly, was yanked from the lineup after four games and replaced by free-agent veteran Michael Bishop, but things only improved sporadically.

Under increasing pressure, Kelly eventually turned some of the game-planning and play-calling duties to assistant coach Manny Matsakis, who had no CFL experience prior to 2009.

Look for the board to insist Kelly go outside the organization to find a more qualified candidate for 2010.

The other condition on Kelly's return will be his willingness to deal more professionally with the media, perhaps even with the help of some off-season media training.

Kelly's repeated run-ins with reporters, sometimes even fans -- on his weekly radio show and at some games -- were a constant distraction this past season. Seen by some as confrontational and arrogant, he'll be expected to tone it down considerably next year.

And he knows it.

"My hope is that you ... and some of our fan base simply give me a 'do-over,' " Kelly said in an e-mail with the Sun last night. "'Cause the team isn't far away..."

While it appears he'll get that do-over, at least from the board, he'll no doubt be on a short leash, particularly if Bauer bolts, since that's who hired him.

As for the CEO, it appears having the board step into what's exclusively been his domain -- football operations -- has his back up.

The board this year also asked Bauer for a comprehensive season-ending review, presumably with a plan for how to win back fans.

With plans for a new stadium and a private takeover by David Asper delayed until at least next fall, Bauer may see this as a good time to move on.

A year-end e-mail to his staff this week was seen by some as a farewell message, as Bauer said nothing about being here for 2010.

Bauer does have at least two years remaining on a contract that's believed to be worth between $300,000 and $400,000 per season.

Negotiations for a buyout could be what's holding up his status.

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


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