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By Ted Michaels, CFL Editor - Archive - Email
Mack the Knife
Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - Looking back, the seeds for what is happening in Winnipeg, may have been planted in the offseason.

That's when Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive backs Jonathan Hefney, Deon Beasley and Jovon Johnson expressed worry, via Twitter, that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers front office wasn't doing enough to keep their team competitive.

At that point, the Blue Bombers had already lost receiver Greg Carr and defensive lineman Don Oramasionwu to Edmonton, and all-star offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte had signed with Saskatchewan.

On Saturday, one day after a heartbreaking 20-17 home loss to the BC Lions, Blue Bombers general manager and vice president of football operations Joe Mack held a news conference to announce the firing of head coach Paul LaPolice and promotion of defensive coordinator Tim Burke to interim head coach.

"We are a results-driven business and we haven't been able to produce for approximately the past year now," Mack said. "And, even though we did play a strong game last night, the overall feeling was, we were not necessarily going in the right direction. This was the appropriate time to make a change."

Under LaPolice, the Bombers went 4-14 in 2010, his first season. That was followed by a 10-8 record and a berth in the Grey Cup last season.

This year, the Bombers are 2-6. That's a combined record of 16-28.

Ironically, after the Grey Cup appearance, the Bombers rewarded LaPolice with a contract extension that would carry him through the 2013 season. He was also a finalist for CFL's coach of the year.

Clearly, a 16-28 record isn't good enough for a head coach, but in LaPolice's case, there's a few reasons why he should have been given some more time.

While Hefney, Beasley and Johnson were chastised by the organization for their tweets, as they should have been, it turns out their concern was warranted.

Other veteran players who either retired or were released or traded included defensive tackles Doug Brown and Odell Willis, offensive lineman Obby Kkan and linebacker Joe Lobendahn. Were they replaced?

If you say that being replaced by rookies or draft picks is being replaced, then the answer is yes.

Mack shrugged off the criticism, saying, "That's always going to happen in pro football. There's going to be turnover in every year, every year. If you look across the league, there's new quarterbacks all over the place, and new running backs all over the place. As an organization, you just have to adjust to that. It's naive for anybody to think there's not going to be turnover. It happens all the time, and you just have to find a way to maximize the talent you have available."

If that's the case, the one thing Mack didn't do was adequately replace starting running back Chris Garrett, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp.

The Blue Bombers then started the 2012 season with a horrendous schedule, which saw them play four games in 19 days, traveling 9,900 miles and spending 19 hours on flights.

During the four games, 10 Winnipeg starters were injured, with some of ending up on the nine-game injured list. Again, suitable replacements weren't found.

The CFL is a quarterback-driven league, and if a team doesn't have depth at that position, it won't win, simple as that.

With Buck Pierce as the starting quarterback, Winnipeg has a record of 11-13. Without him, the Blue Bombers are 5-15 over that period.

Since signing with Winnipeg in 2010, Pierce has started only 32 percent of the games. Without a doubt, bad luck has dogged him.

So, one of the questions then became, who would replace Pierce if he's injured?

Here's the answer, followed by the record as starter:

Steven Jyles, 2-8. Alex Brink, 2-4. Joey Elliott 1-3.

Throw in the fact that Mack, in essence, forced LaPolice to hire Gary Crowton as offensive coordinator, is it any wonder that the Blue Bombers are in shambles?

At the news conference, Mack bristled when asked if he entertained any thoughts of resigning, because, having hired LaPolice, the 16-28 record is also under his watch.

None whatsoever.

When pressed about bearing any responsibility for the team's record under his watch, he went on the offensive, saying "of course, I bear responsibility. But, when I did the evaluation, with all due respect to everybody, I see a fair amount of talent out there that's playing hard, and that's all that a general manager can do for a coaching staff. Ultimately, as everyone in this business knows, the head coach will be held responsible for the product on the field."

For his part, LaPolice went out with class. On his Twitter account, he tweeted, "Thks to everyone for the show of support. Although I 110% disagree with the decision today, I have loved every minute of being HC of Bombers."

Later, he added, "Last nights effort did not reflect a team that didn't believe in the coach and players that have reached out to me disagree with that view."

In the end, those in the Blue Bombers organization who made the decision to hire Mack shouldn't now be wondering why the situation is in such disarray.

Hiring Mack, whose previous CFL experience was director of player personnel in Winnipeg from 1984-1987, and who came to Winnipeg after spending five years as an Independent Sports Consultant, was a move that caused a great deal of controversy at the time. Many insiders said it wouldn't work.

Team president Garth Buchko, told the media, "Joe (Mack) needs to be accountable. We are all accountable to the success of the football operation, be it on the field or on the business side of our operation. So Joe is accountable and will be held accountable, and we'll see where that goes.

"But right now, Joe has my support, has the board's support and we'll see how the season plays out."

Wonder how Mack will feel, playing out the rest of the season, with a target on his back.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? ted@900chml.com


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