Desjardins: ‘We’re excited as a group to have new ideas come in’
OTTAWA — The Ottawa REDBLACKS officially unveiled former Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice as their new head coach on Monday.
LaPolice and general manager Marcel Desjardins addressed the assembled media during an introductory press conference.
“This is a great day for the REDBLACKS,” Desjardins said. “We conducted a thorough process in coming to a decision as to who our head coach was going to be. We started it by talking to a number of our key players and leaders to just get a sense of what they were looking for in a head coach.
“The main three criteria for them was to have a coach that was a very good communicator, who was going to build a solid staff and also somebody who had a passion and a will to win but also to prepare to win. Those were things that were very important to them so I thank them for that.”
This will be LaPolice’s second kick of the can when it comes to head coaching. He was named the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ head coach ahead of the 2010 campaign. He held that position until midway through the 2012 season, when he was relieved of his duties. After spending three years away from the sidelines, LaPolice rejoined the Bombers’ organization, this time as an offensive coordinator on Mike O’Shea’s staff.
2019 proved to be one of LaPolice’s most successful campaigns as a coach. Out of the gates, the Bombers started the year 5-0 before hitting a snag on an Eastern road trip. Andrew Harris was one of the leading candidates to be the Most Outstanding Player at seasons end and Matt Nichols was picking defences apart.
Week 10 started a challenging stretch for the Bombers, who lost Nichols late in a game against the BC Lions to a shoulder injury. That injury would eventually end Nichols’ year and the quarterback required season-ending shoulder surgery.
It was next man up for the Bombers, as 24-year-old Chris Streveler led the offence. He provided trouble for defences with his dual-threat ability, however, the Bombers made a move to shore up their depth under centre, acquiring Zach Collaros from Toronto ahead of the league’s trade deadline.
LaPolice used both individuals in his gameplan during the postseason, with Collaros airing it out and Streveler pounding the rock on the ground. It worked to perfection, as the Bombers beat the Stamps and Riders on the road in the Western Semi-Finals and Finals, respectively, before going back to McMahon Stadium and winning the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw in convincing fashion against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The REDBLACKS are coming off a 3-15 season where they had a rough go down the stretch. They opened the season with two consecutive victories over the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders. However, they’d lose their next four games and 15 of their remaining 16 games of 2019.
Among the issues that hampered Ottawa was their quarterback situation. Jonathon Jennings was brought in from BC to presumably be the team’s starter. However, he was beaten out by Dominique Davis, who was named the Week 1 starting pivot. After struggling with interceptions through the first portion of the year, the team turned to Jennings. The pair continued to swap starts throughout the year, with Jennings getting the lion’s share down the stretch.
In Week 18, the REDBLACKS opted to make the switch to third-string pivot Will Arndt with the playoffs out of reach. The 26-year-old managed to finish the year with 940 yards and three touchdown passes while completing 62 percent of his tosses.
Jennings finished with 1,154 yards and three touchdowns in 18 games while Davis led the group with 2,216 yards and five touchdown tosses while adding an additional 115 yards and six majors on the ground. However, he did throw 14 interceptions — tied for the second-highest total in the league.
That led to former head coach Rick Campbell and the organization agreeing to part ways in November.
“We’re excited as a group to have new ideas come in; to have a new vision from what we’ve been doing from a coaching perspective,” Desjardins said. “Off the field in terms of how we prepare from an offensive standpoint, those are things that we’re in line with in terms of how we go about that process.”
This isn’t the first time that LaPolice has been in the running for a job with the REDBLACKS. Back when the organization was looking for its inaugural head coach ahead of the 2014 season, he revealed that he interviewed with Desjardins at the airport — the organization didn’t have a facility at the time.
He missed out on the chance the first time, but now, he has more coaching experience and a championship under his belt.
“Certainly, I’m a better football coach,” LaPolice said of what he’s learned since his first head-coaching opportunity. “I’ve had more experiences, I’ve been around more people in other organizations, and certainly four years in one organization, I was able to take notes and see how I would’ve done little things differently.
“I might sweat some of the details that don’t matter for the ones that do matter.”
After being able to work with so many quarterbacks
“Whoever we play, we’ve got to make sure that we’re putting them in a position to be successful by using their skills and also making sure that it’s not all about the quarterback,” LaPolice said. “I want to make sure we can do all the things but also make it easier on the quarterback. Whether it’s running the football, whether it’s misdirection, it’s not just about throwing it 50 times a game. We’ll evaluate the guys here and figure out where we need to go; we’ll evaluate the guys in free agency and try to make decisions based off that.
“…The quarterback is a crucial decision-maker on the team and he’s crucial to your success in a number of ways. We’ve got to make sure we’re teaching whoever we have here good situational football and we also have to be complimenting him defensively and special teams wise.”
As for the rest of the team, LaPolice said that they need to focus on cutting down their turnover differential, which was minus-17 in 2019. He also wants his team to play to his standards going forward.
“I expect our team to play fast, physical, to have fun every day and worry about the process, not the end result.”
LaPolice will be working on filling out his staff over the coming weeks. He did reveal that he will run the offence, but there may be another individual brought in under the offensive coordinator tag that would aid him.
The REDBLACKS will likely look to be aggressive in the offseason in order to retool quickly for another run at the postseason in 2020. There might be a process of getting back to their former glory, but they’ve managed to snag the man that should help accelerate their hopes for the future.