May 27, 2015


By Gary Lawless

Columnists

Changing horses now would add to the bad

It's too early to be talking about firing people and cleaning house around Bomberland. It would only add to the general confusion.

No, the 1-3 Bombers made their bed in the off-season and while there may be a lot of thrashing right now, it's not time to push anyone out. Lots can change, and while there's not much to like about the Bombers at this point, they need more time before we can truly assess them.

This group -- and that includes GM Joe Mack, head coach Tim Burke, offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton and quarterback Buck Pierce -- like them or not, are ours at least until Labour Day and likely for the entire season.

As remote a chance as it seems right now, that bunch is the only chance this franchise has of posting a winning record this season. Discharge any or all of them and it's tantamount to giving up on this year. Week 5 is a little early for such a measure.

CEO Garth Buchko isn't going to can Mack, the GM can't fire Burke, the coach has no answer other than Crowton. Pierce is the only QB on the roster with any experience. Going to Justin Goltz at this stage is a white flag with rebuild scribbled on it in bleeding red marker.

At the very top, it comes down to simple office politics. Buchko went to bat for Mack last season when there was an appetite for change at the board level. Buchko himself was leaning heavily toward canning Mack midway through last season, but something changed his mind and he convinced the board to go along with keeping Mack.

Buchko can't very well stand up at the next board meeting and say he made a boo-boo and Mack needs to go. The leadership strategy for the CEO the rest of this season is likely going to employ rosary beads. As in pray like hell this team can turn it around.

"You have to support your CEO," a board member told me last fall, with a look on his face that suggested he was in the midst of a colonoscopy.

So Mack was retained and he made the big off-season decision to cut his No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks. Passed on a trade for veteran Kevin Glenn, who would far and away be an improvement at pivot over what the Bombers have in-house, and also balked at paying the price for now-Edmonton Eskimos starter Mike Reilly.

In case you don't remember, Buchko famously offered this quote last fall when asked what Mack told him when grilled on the quarterback position.

"Yeah, I did (ask him)," said Buchko. "He said, 'I'll fix it.'"

Mack's inability to acquire an effective quarterback during his time as GM of the Bombers will eventually be the calling card of his administration. There's also the matter of a 21-37 record through three seasons and a bit, but that's mostly a function of poor quarterbacking.

One can make the argument Mack has done some good things at other positions, but it's all undone by an ineffective offence, and in the CFL, that spells poor work at quarterback.

Veteran Pierce was brought back despite an obvious injury issue and little chance to reverse that trend. It should not be a surprise to anyone that he's hurt.

There's been lots of screaming for Crowton's head these days. I'm indifferent unless you can offer me a better solution that won't put the offence into total chaos. The only guy who comes to mind and is able to fit that bill is Paul LaPolice. But Mack fired him.

Buchko strode into the locker-room with Mack at his side on the eve of last season's final game and announced to the players and coaching staff that Mack would be back next season and for years to come.

Later that day, he had this to say:

"We are in the winning business. The expectation for Joe, Tim (Burke) and myself is to win. We'll be held accountable for wins and how we play next year," said Buchko.

Seems pretty black and white -- win or else. Mack is in the second-last year of his contract, and four years is enough time in the CFL to determine whether a GM will attain success. He will last the season unless something catastrophic occurs.

Buchko will have other matters keeping him busy if the losing continues. Only two games into the new era at Investors Group Field and attendance is below capacity. The Bombers have budgeted for average crowds of 31,000 this year, so they're ahead of the pace. But the fact the second home game ever played at this stadium wasn't a sellout has to be alarming.

No, things are not good in Bomberland right now. But drastic moves at this stage would eliminate any chance of a rebound.

The only course, sad as that may seem, is to stay the course.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2013 D3

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