Bonded by shared championship, Grey Cup coaches now face off from opposite sidelines

Mike O'Shea looked aghast, paused and then laughed Tuesday when a veteran columnist suggested that a fourth straight trip to the Grey Cup with the same team had led him to coaching legend status in the Canadian Football League.

Winnipeg's O'Shea, Montreal's Maas won 2012 title together as part of Toronto staff

Two men shake hands in front of a trophy.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea, left, and Montreal Alouettes head coach Jason Maas, right, won the Grey Cup together with Toronto in 2012, and will now lead their teams in the championship game on Sunday. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press)

Mike O'Shea looked aghast, paused and then laughed Tuesday when a veteran columnist suggested that a fourth straight trip to the Grey Cup with the same team had led him to coaching legend status in the Canadian Football League.

Hugh Campbell aside, no one else had done it, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach was reminded. But O'Shea wanted no part of the kudos, saying coaches like Campbell, Don Matthews and Wally Buono were on another level.

"That just sounds goofy," he said. "I could never think that way. I hold those coaches in very high regard. I've had interactions with all of them and I would never think of myself in the same light or conversation with those guys. Ever.

In keeping with that no-nonsense, no-airs attitude, O'Shea and Montreal counterpart Jason Maas offered a blue-collar united front as they met the media in the traditional coaches' news conference, sitting on either side of the Grey Cup.

The bond between the two, who won the 2012 cup together as members of Scott Milanovich's 2012 Argonaut coaching staff, was plain to see.

Asked if they had shared a drink together out of the cup that year, O'Shea drew laughs when he immediately replied "No doubt."

"I know when you win one it's forever. Those memories are forever," said Maas.

O'Shea, whom he referred to as Osh, was a "lifelong friend," he added.

"You talk about legends and all that stuff. He won't say it but he is a legend in our sport and I'm not afraid to say it. He's tremendous. And I'm thankful to know him."

Cut from same cloth

Both men seem cut from the same cloth. Which was all about comfort Tuesday with O'Shea in jeans and a black shirt and Maas in jeans and a short-sleeved Alouettes hoodie, with tattoos peeking out of one sleeve.

The two also showed off a down-to-earth view to coaching.

"Over time I've recognized that my role, more and more, is about just trying to deal with people before you deal with them as players," said O'Shea.

Maas called the players "the most important part of your organization."

"That's the way I want them to feel. And that's our duty as an organization to make them feel that way and try to provide as much as possible," said Maas.

Alouettes quarterback Cody Fajardo said Maas delivers on those words.

"That makes you feel validated as a player," he said. "It makes you feel like the early mornings, the late nights, the time you spend studying your playbook and watching film gets validated when you have a head coach who just sees that and understands how [many] sacrifices you make."

Fajardo, whose wife and young son live in the family home in Reno, said he saw his wife twice during the season.

"Those are the sacrifices you make if you want to be great," said Fajardo. "To have a head coach to make it feel like a family here, to make you feel wanted here, helps you go to work every day with a smile on your face."

Long on experience

Veteran Alouettes lineman Kristian Matte singled out Maas' passion for football.

"He really wants to win and, honestly, you want someone passionate in front of you," he added. "We play in the CFL because we're passionate about what we do. We play football in the CFL because we love it. It's not for the money, it's not for all these other things. It's really because we love what we do and coach Maas is no exception.

"And he's not far removed from being a player either so he knows how we feel."

Both coaches have plenty of championship experience.

O'Shea, 53, won the Grey Cup three times as a player with Toronto (1996, '97 and 2004) and in 2012 as the Argos special-teams co-ordinator. He has won the Cup twice (2019 and '21) since becoming the Bombers coach head coach in December 2013.

Maas, 47, dressed for three Grey Cups as a quarterback, winning in 2003 and `05 with Edmonton. He was also Toronto's quarterback coach in 2012.

He was named Montreal head coach last December, one month after being fired as Saskatchewan's offensive co-ordinator.

That 2012 Argo staff also included defensive backs coach Orlondo Steinauer, now coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Chris Jones, now head coach and GM of the Edmonton Elks, was defensive co-ordinator, assistant head coach and assistant GM.

Stephen McAdoo, the Argos' offensive line coach back then, is now an adviser with Edmonton.

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