Friday, 3 February 2012
In Obie I Question
At the beginning of his tenure, it was easy to see why fans had such faith in the decisions being made. Obie got rid of the underachieving Casey Printers, fired the ineffective Charlie Taaffe and replaced him with Marcel Bellefeuille, acquired Kevin Glenn, signed a slew of free agents (Otis Floyd, Jamall Johnson, etc.) and robbed the Argos blind for Arland Bruce. He oversaw a complete roster overhaul, which at the time was needed. There was no foundation, and the team needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. His changes transformed the Cats from perennial fourth-place finisher to perennial playoff contender. Things were not perfect, but they were much better than they were before he arrived.
During the 2011 season, Obie started to make, in my opinion, some highly questionable decisions. Arland Bruce was traded to BC for essentially nothing and Obie openly said that Quinton Porter should play more. The season ended, and the decisions were made to move on from Bellefeuille and Glenn and replace them with George Cortez and Henry Burris, respectively. Say what you want about Bellefeuille and Glenn, but their replacements did not come to the team without their own question marks. How will Cortez adjust to being a Head Coach for the first time? Is the Henry Burris done as an effective starter?
Even with those questions, the decisions to move on from Bellefeuille and Glenn had merit. They did not bring a championship to Hamilton and the front office didn't think they ever would. I might not agree with that belief, but I can at least understand and accept it.
What I cannot understand, and am having a very hard time accepting, is what occurred this week. As I have already pointed out, I don't agree with the team replacing Avon Cobourne with Martell Mallett. Nothing against Mallett, but a change at Running Back was not something the team needed. If one wants to find a person to lay the blame on for the failures of last year, Avon Cobourne would be one of the last names someone would mention.
I know that Mallett is younger and came a little cheaper, but is that a reason to get rid of the league's fourth-leading rusher? Cobourne's all-that-matters-is-winning attitude was exactly what the team needed. He doesn't care about stats, he cares about rings. He didn't get one last year and he would have been extremely motivated to make sure that didn't happen again this year. Releasing Cobourne could blow up in the team's face worse than trading Arland Bruce (which, for the record, I think is one of the worst decisions in franchise history). Even if Mallett duplicates Cobourne's on-field success, he will not be able to match his locker room presence.
And that is what I find most disconcerting about what has transpired over the last six months.
The team has purged itself of a plethora of veteran leaders, which are not easily replaceable. You need players like Cobourne to kick people in the butt when times are tough. You win championships with leaders like that, but who are the leaders in Hamilton now that Bruce, Glenn and Cobourne are elsewhere? Dave Stala can fill a void, and so can Stevie Baggs. (Sidebar: Am I the only one who thinks Baggs could be next on the chopping block? With the way the team has operated since the season has ended, it is very easy to envision No. 55 wearing a different uniform come Training Camp.) Henry Burris can take Glenn's spot, obviously, but Cobourne was clearly the alpha male in the locker room last year (taking the role from Otis Floyd) and there is not a player on the roster that looks ready to take on that responsibility. Every team needs a player like Cobourne if they want to win a championship. And make no mistake, a championship is clearly what the Tiger-Cats are after in 2012.
While it has gone unsaid, it is rather clear that last season's East Division Final appearance was not good enough. If it was, Glenn, Bellefeuille and Cobourne would still be around. That means nothing short of a Grey Cup will be acceptable for the Tiger-Cats in 2012. That's why the moves, especially the ones made at Running Back, don't make a whole lot of sense. You don't get rid of player like Cobourne for ones with one year of CFL experience, especially if your goal is to win now.
I will happily eat a whole bucket of crow should the team win the Grey Cup. My hope is that I am 100 per cent wrong and the Ti-Cats end the second-longest championship drought in the CFL. But based on what I have seen, I don't think that will happen, and I put that on the moves that O'Billovich has made. I am no longer in the "In Obie We Trust" camp. For me, it's now, "In Obie I Question."