Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rebuild the broken Bombers, and do it right

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are a bad team, low on talent for the present and future. By the end of this season, it will be time for an overhaul from top to bottom.

This football team needs a fix, and not just a slight tweak here and there. A mid-season purge won't do it, as both a psychological shift and personnel update are required.

The best and most direct route to a better future is to follow the model of the recent Toronto Maple Leafs. Hire a quality CFL football person, give him a long-term deal with guaranteed budgets and unfettered power over football operations.

Remove any possibility of meddling from the board and team executives and send a statement to fans that something is being done, and despite their infinite patience, they're now being asked to exert a little more.

If the right person and proper plan are put in place, the fans will buy in. But more of the status quo will only lead to football and financial ruin for the Bombers.

There is little passion in the stands these days. Fans don't believe in the present or the future, and worse, many have stopped caring.

They need to know the board and CEO Garth Buchko are removed from the football end of the operation.

Buchko and the board get blamed for a lot of things beyond their control. So be it. Perception is reality, and the only way to counter it at this point is to give a football chief full control and the money to get the job done.

It won't be cheap, but we've seen what cheap gets in the form of the miserable football history in Winnipeg that has unfolded over the last 20-plus years.

Firing Mack today might quench the thirst for blood among some, but it really serves no purpose

The Leafs courted Brian Burke in 2008 and he made it clear early in the process he would only take the job on his terms -- a long-term contract with no interference from then-CEO Richard Peddie and the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment board.

Burke was made president and general manager, hockey operations. He had real power and he used it.

Much like the Bombers, the Leafs had a history of losing and a reputation for a board and executive that put its nose where it didn't belong. Burke's contract guaranteed an end to the meddling and his skills put a playoff team in place.

Burke was fired last fall, but not for hockey reasons. He left the Leafs in good shape as a hockey organization, with one of the best coaches in the game, a playoff team on the ice and a host of prospects on the way.

Wouldn't you love to be able to say the same thing about the Bombers in three years?

There is no longer any question that as a football organization, the Blue Bombers are broken and in the midst of a long-term cycle of systemic losing.

If you don't like pain or gruesome sights, maybe it's best to skip the next couple of paragraphs as we offer a quick review.

Right off the top, we'll deal with the Grey Cup. The last time the team won was 1990. Too long ago in an eight-team league.

The current administration, led by GM Joe Mack, can't be blamed for the entire drought, but they have demonstrated they're not the group to end it.

Mack is in his fourth year with the club and has compiled a 21-38 record to date. Losses can be accepted early on if they are in the name of a brighter future, but that can't be said in Winnipeg.

Except for a stretch in 2011 that saw the Paul LaPolice-led Bombers open the season with a 7-1 mark, the Mack era has been about losing and nothing more.

The Bombers have no definitive answer at quarterback and the offensive line is in need of a revamp. Henoc Muamba is the lone high-performance Canadian on the roster, and the defence has regressed.

If Mack was rebuilding for the first three years of his tenure, what is he doing now?

Firing Mack today might quench the thirst for blood among some, but it really serves no purpose.

Qualified CFL candidates won't be available until season's end and the Bombers need someone in charge until then.

Releasing Mack is the first step, but that act is much less important than who is hired next and under what parameters.

The obvious choices are proven CFL leaders with track records. Unfortunately, prying Wally Buono or Jim Popp out of their current situations in B.C. and Montreal, respectively, would prove expensive, to say the least, and nearly impossible.

Calgary's Jon Hufnagel and Regina's Brendan Taman would also be great hires, but they too are tied up.

The Bombers likely need to uncover a GM-in-waiting and let him go to work.

There are excellent candidates currently in assistant GM positions with coaching staffs, the media and the league front office -- people with CFL managerial experience, knowledge of the Canadian game and relationships around the league.

The Bombers have limped along with an inferior football operations department based on structure as much as personnel for too long.

Taman had his hands tied in Winnipeg by a number of factors such as budget and lack of autonomy.

Now, given the money and freedom to do as he sees fit with the Roughriders, the result is the best team in Canada by a long shot. Hufnagel, who is also head coach, has a similar arrangement in Calgary.

Winnipeg needs a similar candidate and job description.

Change is coming. Bet on it.

What will that change look like? That's what we need to be thinking about and discussing.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2013 D3

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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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