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Bombers coach Mike O'Shea confirms outside interest in OC Buck Pierce

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea looks on after losing to the Montreal Alouettes in the 110th CFL Grey Cup in Hamilton, Ont., on Sunday, November 19, 2023. O’Shea knows he may lose some talented players in the off-season, but his coaching staff might also take a hit.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

WINNIPEG — Mike O’Shea knows he may lose some talented players in the off-season, but his coaching staff might also take a hit.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach confirmed Monday that one CFL team has been given permission to speak to offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce.

The only club officially looking for a head coach next season is the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who didn’t renew Craig Dickenson’s contract after the team finished 6-12 and missed the playoffs.

O’Shea said he’s talked to Pierce as a friend.

“I want whatever is best for Buck and his family. Really,” he said.

He said he is not aware of any teams asking to speak to others on his coaching staff, but wouldn’t be surprised if there were some requests before his staff’s contracts expire next month.

“You bank on some change,” O’Shea said. “We've got a good staff. I mean, why wouldn't teams want our guys?”

The Blue Bombers are coming off their fourth consecutive appearance in the Grey Cup and second straight loss.

The heavily favoured squad lost 28-24 to the Montreal Alouettes on Nov. 19 in Hamilton, a disappointing follow-up to last year’s 24-23 upset at the hands of the Toronto Argonauts.

“I imagine at some point down the road, even years from now, I’ll just, all of a sudden, let out some primal scream and say, ‘Damn, had a chance,’” O’Shea said of the loss to the Alouettes.

“Once again, as I said after the game, credit to Montreal. They certainly made a few more plays than we did, especially at the end.”

Montreal drove down the field late in the fourth quarter, overcoming a third-and-five situation before quarterback Cody Fajardo connected with receiver Tyson Philpot in the end zone for the 19-yard winning touchdown with 13 seconds remaining.

The Bombers finished the regular season with a 14-4 record, one fewer win than the previous year. The team captured the Grey Cup in 2019 and 2021. The 2020 season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Winnipeg has 36 players who are pending free agents in February, a high number that isn’t unusual in a league that often hands out one-year contracts.

What is unique for the Blue Bombers right now is that longtime general manager Kyle Walters is working on an expiring contract.

O’Shea said the uncertainty with Walters makes it difficult to look ahead to 2024, but he still expects him to be back. O’Shea is signed through 2025, when Winnipeg hosts the Grey Cup.

When players spoke to the media while cleaning out their lockers last week, many confirmed they’d like to return to the Bombers but others left question marks.

Pending free-agent running back Brady Oliveira said his agent is trying to set up workouts with NFL teams in the off-season, but he’d re-join his hometown team if the core group is back and he gets a contract he thinks he deserves.

Oliveira, 26, was named the CFL’s top Canadian and runner-up for most outstanding player in his second season as Winnipeg’s starter. He led the league in rushing with 1,534 yards — the second-highest total by a Canadian in league history after Jon Cornish ran for 1,813 yards with the Calgary Stampeders in 2013.

The five-foot-10 222-pound tailback recorded nine touchdowns along the ground and also caught 38 passes for 482 yards and four TDs. Last year, he ran for 1,001 yards and four TDs and added 252 receiving yards with one TD.

O’Shea said he wouldn’t want Oliveria to leave without trying to work out a deal, just as the team did in past seasons before Canadian star running back Andrew Harris signed with Toronto in 2022.

“He had a massive year. Fantastic year,” O’Shea said of Oliveira. “We've done it before. We had a very good one before Brady, too.

“So we've certainly made it work in a cap system before. Once again, we'll have to formulate a strategy and figure out what we're going to do. Obviously, we want him back.”

Winnipeg’s entire starting offensive line are pending free agents and range in age from 29 to 37-year-old perennial all-star tackle Stanley Bryant.

While “a couple” Bombers might be done playing, O’Shea wouldn’t say which ones are considering retirement.

He doesn’t buy the view the team is getting too old.

“I don't look at our roster right now and look down the list and say, 'Here's a couple guys that have aged out.' They're too good, and they work too well together,” O’Shea said.

“You need that experience, too. And we do have some young guys that are best-in-the-league-calibre players, too.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2023.

Judy Owen, The Canadian Press

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