It's been a tough off-season for two of the Tiger-Cats' main competitors in the East Division. Both the Toronto Argonauts, who fired Bart Andrus on December 14, 2009, and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who fired Mike Kelly on December 17, 2009, will have new Head Coaches when the 2010 CFL Season begins.
Andrus seemed in over his head and unable to adapt his NFL coaching style to the Canadian game. His clash with Arland Bruce led to the Argos sending Bruce to Hamilton (thanks for that, coach!) in July for basically a sack of beans and a thank-you. Bruce helped the Cats reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004, and Andrus was fired after the season. Guess Bruce won that one, eh, coach?
Kelly was, for lack of a better term, a complete buffoon. He embarrassed himself and the team with his multiple off-field problems, which came to a head days before his firing when he was arrested for assault. Kelly clashed with the media, clashed with his players and was generally disliked by the vast majority of Bomber fans. He swore during press conferences, he banished team leader Barrin Simpson, and he was uncouth enough to verbally battle with Otis Floyd following the Ti-Cats' season-ending win in Winnipeg. Basically, Kelly made a complete fool of himself every time he spoke.
Neither firing should come as much of a surprise. Each team took its time in naming a successor. Paul LaPolice was hired by the Blue Bombers on February 5, 2010, and Jim Barker was hired by the Argonauts on February 9, 2010. How each of these hirings pans out for their respective clubs remains to be seen.
Since both teams missed the playoffs in 2009, the determiner of whether the change in Head Coach was successful will be whether either team will challenge the Cats and Als for playoff spots in 2010. I see both teams struggling to make the post-season in 2010. Aside from Head Coach, each team has turmoil at the most key position in football: Quarterback. The Argos need to decide which direction they want to go in with Cody Pickett and Kerry Joseph. The Blue Bombers need to decide if they plan to retain the services of Michael Bishop, who provided a spark for the Bombers when he arrived, but whose mistakes in the end cost them a chance to host the East Division Semi-Final when he stunk the joint out against the Tiger-Cats (thanks, Mike!) on the final day of the 2009 CFL Regular Season.
If I was forced to choose one of the two teams to make the playoffs in 2010, I'd put my money on the Argonauts. Since free agency began they have been very active, and they also acquired the best player to change teams so far this off-season when they traded for Jeremaine Copeland. That gives them a slight advantage over the Bombers as of now. That said, I still expect the Cats and Als to remain the top two teams in the CFL's East Division. The Boatmen might sneak in as the #3 seed in the East, but I still expect that a crossover team from the West Division will play either the Ti-Cats or Alouettes in the East Division Semi-Final in 2010.