Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mack, Burke give each other room to do their jobs

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The give and take between Joe Mack and Tim Burke is perhaps the most important thing the Blue Bombers have going, and with each day it moves toward a more productive place.

GM and head coach don't have to like one another, although in this case they do, but they need to respect the other and allow him room to work.


Mack can't coach and Burke can't scout. They have to trust one another to fulfill his responsibilities.

Mack has to bring the players in and then get out of Burke's way.

For his part, Burke must believe Mack's instincts are correct and the players he supplies are worthy.

When the relationship loses balance in either direction it doesn't work. GMs can't fall in love with players because of tape or a workout and force them on a coach. Coaches don't have time to scout and can't be sticking their nose into that end of the process.

It's a delicate balance but when found, can reap huge benefits. Montreal Alouettes GM Jim Popp, who keeps his office upstairs and away from the coaching staff, doesn't cut players or force his coaches to keep them. He brings in the talent and then steps aside. He's the best in the business -- maybe because he knows what his business is and is not.

It's a weird dynamic. The GM hires the head coach and then in many ways serves him. The GM's job is to get the coach what he needs so he can run the offence and defence he wants.

Mack was too involved in roster decisions during former head coach Paul LaPolice's time. LaPolice was a young coach and Mack had too much influence on him.

Burke comes to the job in a much different position. He's older and more confident despite having never held a prior head coaching job.

Burke is going to be more insistent on the players and changes he wants. He knows this is his one chance to succeed or forever be back in the spotter's booth as a position coach or co-ordinator. If Burke is going to go down, it will be doing things his way.

Mack, of course, still has veto power but he'd be foolish to use it very often. Having a confident coach invested in the roster is the optimal situation.

There's nothing worse than a GM grousing because a coach won't use a player he loves -- other than a coach griping that his GM never gets him any talent.

Mack's forte is scouting and filling holes. He can watch tape and match players to the needs of his coach as well as anyone in the CFL. But he's not a coach and he's not in the room with the players on a daily basis.

Burke is better situated to know what players are working hard and make his locker-room cohesive. He has to be able to go to Mack and say "I want this guy," or "get this guy out of my room."

Mack has to listen.

That's where the Blue Bombers find themselves today. With GM and head coach working together and respecting each other's talents.

The release of Jonathan Hefney last week was another example of Burke having more say not only on who plays, but who stays.

Burke determined Hefney had to go and Mack, despite spending some bonus money on the gifted defensive back this off-season, acquiesced.


Some have compared this move to last season's release of linebacker Clint Kent but it's the exact opposite. LaPolice didn't want to let Kent go but Mack pushed and got his way. It was a mistake. Kent was a needed voice in the locker-room and the Bombers struggled to replace him.

Burke wanted Hefney removed and Mack trusted him. The dynamic working as it should. Hefney may prove difficult to replace on the field but Burke won't have the excuse of a distracting presence.

One thing about Mack, he's been around and he's able to see when something isn't working. He had to know his influence over LaPolice was too powerful and in the end, counter-productive.

Maybe more than anyone, Mack wants the Bombers to succeed. It's his legacy on the line. If the club turns things around this year he'll be validated. If they tank again it's likely the end of the road for him.

Recognizing Burke's strengths and returning the balance of power to its natural state may have been Mack's best move to date as GM.

If it works, it will save his career. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2013 D1

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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
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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