Friday 3 February 2012

In Obie I Question

When hired by Hamilton to be their General Manager (now Vice President of Football Operations) a popular statement made by fans regarding Bob O'Billovich was "In Obie We Trust."

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."


  1. As fans we always question the GM. To trust Obie fully, would be stupid, in all honestly.

    When Obie came, the cupboard was bare, so we upgraded the coaching and the QB.

    Now, I feel we are doing the same thing. Cortez, although never been a head coach, has the track record, is better than Marcel, who was never successful in any of his previous stops, except UofO.

    Burris, who played well until Labour day, is better than Glenn, who is a slightly above average QB.

    Those 2 moves are fine in my books.

    As for Avon, it stinks getting rid of a team leader but in reality, we are getting a younger RB with bigger potential. If Mallet doesn't come out of the gates flying, there will be a ton of question marks. Honestly though, RB is the least of my concerns. Our O-line needs to be rebuilt and hopefully that gets addressed in 2 weeks.

    As for Stevie, he ain't going anywhere. I think it's pretty well known that he wasn't used properly. The biggest example of this was when Hickman played for Baggs in the ESF and TSN hilighted Hickman dropping back in coverage. Baggs needs to pin his ears back and go at the QB. The greatest rush ends of all time never covered anyone. Bruce Smith, Jason Taylor, Reggie White, Grover Covington, etc, etc. I don't see him going anywhere.

    We basically gave Bruce away for nothing, but I hope with that money freed up, we go after Fantuz.

    Bruce's worth drastically went down with the emergence of Grant, Kelly and Chris Williams. Let's just hope we don't get a sophmore slump from them but we still have Stala, who wasn't even looked at in the second half of the season.

    All in all, we are in good shape. With a healthy secondary and a new DC, we will be fine on D. 2 solid linemen and a veteran receive and we will be unstopable.

    Only other thing on the wishlist is a kicker!

  2. I actually liked Chamblin, and maybe his system would have eventually worked well, but there was just too much going on in it for the players we had. Cortez said he prefers to rush 4 and keep 8 back. I doubt we'll see defensive ends covering RBs and TEs on passing downs very often.

    Offensive line is a huge question mark. It was before, and is even more so now that Rottier is gone and we traded a promising player in Dewit. I actually thought Malone was part of the problem, but I now wonder if it was a rookie OC who hadn't quite figured out how to get the blocking schemes aligned with his play designs.

    I'm not sure Cobourne should have been replaced either, but I do think there will be enough leadership. It just may not be his brand of it. But if we have a coach that expects more accountability, I think that will make up for Cobourne's departure - Bellefeuille was a players' coach but a little too nice at times, and I really think he was starting to lose the respect of his players. With a new sheriff in town, everyone has to prove themselves all over again and that may be the biggest improvement in the team no matter who is still around from 2011.