Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Is Hefney worth the gamble?

Bombers could jettison defender after leadership, performance failings

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Maybe GM Joe Mack and head coach Tim Burke are standing by a troubled player in his time of need. Or maybe they're waiting for poor play to be the reason they cut Jonathan Hefney.

From poor performance, to Twitter idiocy, to putting himself before the team, Hefney has helped build a case against himself. But if Mack and Burke want to give a veteran and one-time contributor another chance to show his worth on the field, that's their right.

Hefney had better perform or he'll be gone. The GM and head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have too much at stake to allow Hefney to derail this season.

In all likelihood, he's already used up his three strikes and they just haven't told him he's out.

Things can change, and a big performance from Hefney in tonight's pre-season game against the Toronto Argos would certainly help his cause. But make no mistake, the defensive back is in peril of being released as early as the opening round of cuts made by the Bombers, unless there's a dramatic shift.

Mack and Burke recently made noise about wanting their team to be more responsible off the field. Now, when faced with another distraction from Hefney, they're apparently letting it slide.

But only so they can say they kept or cut Hefney on the merit of his play. Mack said as much Tuesday morning.

"Again, Jonathan says that he is completely innocent of this and we're going to take him at his word because he is one of our teammates," said Mack. "That in itself, this particular incident, won't affect his status at all. It's going to be how he plays."

Hefney's big sin isn't getting popped for possession of marijuana and, as Mack pointed out, he's considered innocent until proven guilty.

No, Hefney's transgression is his duplicity in the matter and continued trend of putting himself before the team.

Hefney was arrested prior to training camp back in his hometown of Rock Hill, S.C., for having six-plus grams of marijuana in his truck.

The news broke Monday when the Bombers were caught off guard by a report in a Rock Hill newspaper outlining Hefney's arrest.

Instead of focusing on the team's first pre-season game, Burke and Mack were forced to deal with an unnecessary distraction. Had Hefney come clean prior to camp, the issue could have been dealt with and set aside.

But he put himself first, hoping he could slide under the radar and beat the system. Hefney tossed the dice and got caught. Twice.

Today, Mack and Burke and the Blue Bombers are paying the price. Maybe it'll be small and the team will roll right on through and Hefney will return to the form that once made him among the best defenders in the CFL.

Or maybe it will be another thread in the continued unravelling of Hefney's career.

Hefney was once an elite defender in the CFL. Ferocious and brimming with instinct, he was always around the ball and often arrived with a bang. He was something to see.

But last season saw his play lag and his lack of leadership develop into a distraction. He openly flouted the authority of then coach Paul LaPolice, refusing to acknowledge fines and reported late following the team's bye week.

The Bombers dressing room had a leadership void when Doug Brown retired. Hefney spoke of working to help fill the gap but his actions didn't match those words.

To be blunt, Hefney has been more of a hindrance than a help the last 12 months or so.

Cutting Hefney for what amounts to the same as a traffic ticket would seem overly harsh but banging him for lack of leadership, slipping performance and to send a message of discipline are certainly worthy reasons.

Did it really come as a surprise that Hef likes his herb? C'mon. Grass is the drug of choice in the CFL, the league doesn't consider it a banned substance and when Ricky Williams needed asylum from a marijuana ban in the NFL, our league rolled open its windows.

The bust in itself isn't the big no no. It's everything else surrounding Hefney's increasingly tiresome act.

Maybe Hefney is worth the gamble. But that's unlikely.

Mack and Burke elected not to make a knee-jerk reaction and cut Hefney immediately. They viewed it as prudent to wait.

I wonder if they'll feel the same way after watching the film of tonight's game.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2013 D2

History

Updated on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 6:31 AM CDT: adds video

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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