Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pierce best bet for Mack and LaPo

Neither alternative could save their jobs

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Truth-serum time.

If their jobs are on the line this season -- and with a 14-26 record while guiding the Bombers, one has to believe that's true -- who do Joe Mack and Paul LaPolice want at quarterback to make their case?

Unequivocally, the answer has to be Buck Pierce.

So you can be sure if and when Pierce gets healthy, he'll be reinstated as this team's starter.

Already at 0-4, there's a strong chance the Bombers will finish this season with a losing record. With Pierce at the helm, Mack and LaPolice can cling to a shred of confidence that they have a playoff team.

Alex Brink or Joey Elliott as the No. 1 can only spell the start of a new era. That's fine, but if that's the case, Mack will have to go to his bosses and tell them exactly what this season is going to be about, and that is the beginning of a rebuild.

It's Year 3 of his time as GM, and if Mack declares it's once again time to start over, that may or may not sit well with the Bombers board of directors. Or more importantly, you, the fans.

Although the declaration "there is no such thing as a rebuilding year in the CFL" has always seemed a bit of a stretch, there is no doubt the curve from bad to good can be much shorter in Canadian football than in most professional sports leagues.

With only eight teams and a monopoly on football players deemed not suitable for the NFL, getting better and doing it quickly happens all the time in this league.

Dreadful start

Blue Bombers fans know this, and if this dreadful start turns into another losing season, it won't bode well for the current management team.

LaPo and Mack had better hope Pierce gets healthy and does so fast, because without him, the Bombers are destined to struggle. Big time.

Brink and Elliott are nice young quarterbacks, but they need to play big minutes before they can be considered anything but projects. Projects don't often rack up wins in pro sport until they near the end of their learning stage. For Brink or Elliott, that time is a full season from now of taking game snaps.

Searching your mind and not your heart, how many games could this Bombers team win with Brink or Elliott at the helm full time? Running a club with a swinging gate for an offensive line and a defence that leads the league only in getting pushed around doesn't set up a green quarterback to succeed.

But let's be ridiculously generous and say they could go 8-6 the rest of the way. That leaves the Bombers with an 8-10 record and takes the organization's mark under Mack and LaPo to 22-32 over three years.


Is that good enough for everyone to keep their jobs? Depends what the 12-person volunteer board concludes, I guess. Rookie CEO Garth Buchko isn't ready to wade into football matters of this import, leaving the board to steer the future of the team on the field.

As green as the Bombers are at quarterback, they are just as ill-prepared up top when it comes to football business calls. Do we really want the same folks who have been at the forefront of our stadium fiasco presiding over key football staffing decisions? Of course not, but the model in use, which hasn't turned out a Grey Cup win since 1990, is unlikely to change, so to expect a drastic uptick in the Bombers' fortunes is unrealistic.

For the record, I don't believe there's even a remote chance any quarterback other than Pierce can win eight games for Winnipeg this season. So for the sake of LaPolice (as the coach, he'd be the first out the door) and Mack (his fingerprints are now all over this roster, and pretty soon he's going to be asked to account for his results), Pierce's return can't happen soon enough.

Now Buck has a habit of getting injured, and there are no guarantees he'll be able to mount much of a winning streak. But he's a proven commodity when healthy and owns a 32-25-1 record as a starter in the CFL while Brink and Elliott have a combined one win between them.

If you needed some wins to stick around to fight another day, Pierce would definitely be your man, given the alternatives. Mack and LaPolice have to be thinking the same thing.

Pierce may be nearing the end of his time in Winnipeg. Again, fine. But call it what it is: If it's Buck, it's an attempt to win and win now.

If it's not Buck, it's back to the classroom.

But shouldn't school be out by now? Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2012 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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