Joe Mack is the right man for the job. Still.
That was the message Thursday afternoon from Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Garth Buchko as he announced at a news conference that both Mack, the Bombers general manager, and Burke, the head coach, will return in those jobs for the 2013 season.
Specifically citing Mack’s success this season in recruiting highly successful CFL rookies in running back Chad Simpson, wide receiver Chris Matthews and defensive end Alex Hall, Buchko said he decided after a month-long review that Mack has the team on the right course.
"I believe this speaks volumes to the direction Joe Mack has us headed in," Buchko said, adding that there was also a bigger picture to consider as well.
"What ultimately sealed my decision (was) I am just not ready to dismantle this organization and start over from scratch," said Buchko. "In business as in sports, success comes when you have stability in the leadership position."
Buchko also made clear, however, that the performance of the team this year -- they are 5-12 heading into their final game of the season this Saturday at home against the Montreal Alouettes -- is unacceptable.
"No one at the Winnipeg Football Club is pleased by our record and results this year," said Buchko. "A 5-12 record to date is not and will not be the standard for this organization going forward."
The news conference played out in front of a crowded room of Bombers players and office staff who gathered at the Blue and Gold room to watch the announcement.
In his remarks, Mack pointed to the club’s 3-3 record during the last six games despite a litany of injuries -- in particular at starting quarterback -- as evidence the team is headed in the right direction and that Burke is the man to continue to lead them as the 29th head coach in Bombers history.
"We were in first place last year and made it to the Grey Cup. And although we had some hiccups, I still think that we have overall the quality of talent of players to get there again," Mack said.
"We have to get more consistency in our quarterback play and that’s something we’re going to have to work our way through."
Mack said it was premature to say if No. 1 quarterback Buck Pierce, who finished just two games in an injury-riddled season in 2012, would be the team’s starting quarterback again next year.
"You can’t say enough about Buck’s leadership, toughness and ability to be a good teammate. I mean he has all those qualities that you want. Unfortunately, as we’re all aware, Buck has had some bad luck with injuries. So we’re going to have to work through that with Buck and the medical staff and the coaching staff overall and try to formulate a plan to see how we can get that consistency and clarity in the quarterback situation."
Burke, who described how he wanted to be a head coach since he was a six-year-old watching college football while growing up in Iowa, said he believes the nucleus of a championship football team is already in the Bombers locker room.
"We’re going to get back to the Grey Cup with the vast majority of the players on this team. They’re going to get us there just like they got us there last year. We’ve had a lot of great rookies come in this year and show what they can do," said Burke.
"I think we have a very strong foundation... We have the players to get it done. I believe in them. They believe in themselves. And I know we’re going to be back in the Grey Cup soon."
Burke confirmed that offensive coordinator Gary Crowton will return next season in the same role. Burke said he will "probably" ask the rest of this year’s coaching staff to also join him again next season.
Reaction on Thursday from the players to the news that both Mack and Burke are staying was universally positive and centred on a theme that stability is badly needed in the franchise if they are ever going to succeed.
"It’s all about stability. I’ve been here so long and seen so many changes -- you just can’t win that way," said seven-year Bombers safety Ian Logan. "It was a rough season but staying the course is the best idea right now. I love playing for coach Burke and I know everyone is behind him. It’s a good step."
Veteran Bombers slotback Terrence Edwards said he understands the impatience of fans for a winner in a community that hasn’t hoisted a Grey Cup in 22 years and counting, but he asked for empathy. "People are doing their jobs to the best of their ability. Firing someone is not always the answer. We all understand the fans are very passionate about this team and this club, but how would you feel if somebody came to your job and said, ‘You’re not getting the job done. You need to be fired.’ Just put a little perspective into it...
"I’ve been here six years and had four different head coaches already. What has that got us?"
Offensive lineman Glenn January was asked to make the case to fans that better times are coming for the franchise. "We’ve shown flashes of greatness, I can tell you that. We’ve got a good young roster in here. We’ve got some old guys who have still been able to pull their weight. We’ve got a good core group of guys in this locker room.
"Now, there may be a need for some veteran presence. And I think it was best said -- ‘Next year, we’re all vets.’ They’re going to have a year under their belts for all the young guys. And we’ll carry on, carry forward. I think there’s no doubt Mr. Mack has the ability to bring into some talent and we have a talented roster, like I said."