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Torch passed, Buck burning

Blue's new No. 1 Goltz predicts 'some tension there'

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Blue Bombers' new No. 1 Justin Goltz predicts 'some tension there.'


Blue Bombers' new No. 1 Justin Goltz predicts 'some tension there.' Photo Store

There is no official playbook for such a thing, but a good guess is the critical component of passing a torch is to ensure the exchange doesn't leave anyone engulfed in flames.

Which brings us to Thursday's official announcement that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have named Justin Goltz their No. 1 quarterback from this point forward, with Buck Pierce "transitioning" to a backup role while helping offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton devise the weekly game plan and groom the pivots.

In itself, that doesn't even move the needle on the news-flash meter.

After all, Goltz was decent in his first start a week ago, and given the team is 1-4 and Pierce's 31/2-year run as top gun has been pockmarked by injury, it should hardly come as a surprise the organization wants to give Goltz an extended shot, continuing Monday in B.C. against the Lions.

Yet this is the Bombers, and it's here we'd like to expand on our handoff-turned-fireball analogy.

First, Pierce is capital-P peeved with the decision.

"I'm not happy about it at all," he said after practice Thursday. "I don't feel, in my opinion, it's the right move. I feel that I can contribute and obviously they don't feel the same.

"It's only Week 6 of the season. I can't speak on their decisions at all. I just know they pay me to do a job and now I'm not doing that job.

"I'm definitely not happy about it."

--Buck Pierce

"I have to stay positive in my mind and help the guys go out there and play, but I'm definitely not happy about it."

Just to be clear, Pierce said all the right things about staying positive and doing the things to help an organization that has shown so much faith in him. But -- and maybe this is part stubbornness/denial or just plain awful communication -- he is hardly comfortable with the Bombers essentially telling him his starting days are over, especially after they recommitted to him in the off-season.

In fact, Pierce said he was unaware part of his new responsibilities would be to "groom" Goltz and Max Hall, even as he continues to deny the club's claim he is injured.

"I'm in shape to play right now," Pierce said. "Nothing was ever spoken to me about bringing young guys along right now and helping in that aspect. That was never talked to me about."

Flaming inferno, meet gasoline.

There's more. While acknowledging that coaching would be a natural fit for him, Pierce clearly doesn't think that time is now. That doesn't make him unique in a profession where rare is the athlete who leaves the game on his own terms.

Asked if he thought his first-string salary and third-string role left him vulnerable to being released, he didn't mince words.

"It's a business," Pierce said. "They'll have to make a decision on what they want to do with me. That's the reality of the game, that's the reality of our business.

"I've had nothing but great conversations with Buck."

--Justin Goltz

"I want to be here, and I can't overstate that enough. I want to be here, I want to help us win. But as a third-stringer, I don't know if that's using my ability to the best."

Though the rationale behind the Bombers' move is sound -- Pierce's injury history has created a weekly soap opera about who will start -- the timing speaks of the desperation with the organization.

Just this past winter, the Bombers recommitted to Pierce who, in turn, trimmed down to give himself more mobility.

Crowton put in changes to the offensive playbook to protect Pierce and keep him in the pocket running a quick-strike attack.

That was changed three games into the season when the decision was made to allow Pierce outside the pocket to do his thing again.

Then the ball was handed to Goltz because Pierce was injured, although Pierce denied it.

Still following?

Then along came Thursday, when the Bombers came to the decision to essentially end their marriage to Pierce and move on with Goltz and Hall.

Into all this strides Goltz, who now becomes the Bombers' No. 1 gun working an offence designed by a man under the microscope and now aided by another whose job he just ripped from his hands.


"I've had nothing but great conversations with Buck," said Goltz.

"There's obviously going to be some tension there. He's been in the league for a long time and he's done his thing. A lot of us have a lot of pride when we come out here, so nobody wants to be demoted or pushed back on the depth chart.

"But in terms of our personal relationship, Buck's been nothing but great to me, and I expect him to be that way from here on out."

So begins a new era in Bomberland, even if the passing of the torch wasn't exactly smooth.

"It takes a lot of confidence and foresight for the coaches and management to allow me to be a spark and come in and try to change the tides around here," Goltz added. "I feel fortunate about that.

"But it's time to stop talking about it and go ahead and be about it."

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2013 C1

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