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Fears for Buck, jeers for Mack and beers with Burke

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Buck Pierce needs to stop. And Joe Mack needs to go.

That was the overwhelming message from respondents to this year’s 10th annual Winnipeg Free Press/Calgary Herald Grey Cup Media Poll.

Print, radio and television reporters from across Canada who regularly cover the CFL were surveyed over the course of a week earlier this month and they were united on the subjects of Pierce and Mack like almost no other topic in the 25-question poll.

Asked what advice they would give to the beleaguered and oft-injured Winnipeg Blue Bombers starting quarterback, two out of three respondents recommended Pierce retire.

And respondents were even more united when asked if they thought Mack, the Bombers GM, deserves another year at the helm of the Winnipeg franchise. Fully 87.5 per cent of respondents said he did not, many of them emphatically so, with four different journalists responding ‘Hell No!"

Only one other category in the survey received a more overwhelmingly uniform response — 90.2 per cent of respondents said they were very or reasonably confident the Saskatchewan Roughriders would have a new stadium built as scheduled by 2017.

Mack was also voted by respondents as having done the worst job of any coach or GM in the CFL in 2012. A write-in category, Mack was named on 38.2 per cent of responses, ahead of Ticats head coach George Cortez and former Edmonton GM Eric Tillman, who tied for second at 30.9 per cent. No other coach or GM received a vote.

The fact Mack won the worst job category over Tillman, who gave away Ricky Ray in the biggest single blunder of the 2012 season and was ultimately fired, suggests the Bombers GM has become the same kind of lightning rod for strong feelings around the country as he is here in Winnipeg.

The beleaguered Bombers GM also finished third in the biggest jerk in the CFL write-in category, garnering 11.9 per cent of the ballots. B.C. Lions defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell won that category with 28.6 per cent of the votes. Cortez finished second with 14.3 per cent.

Interestingly, the voters condemnation of Mack came in the same poll in which they voted one of his player acquisitions in 2012 — wide receiver Chris Matthews — as the second most likely CFLer to graduate to the NFL. Matthews received 16.7 per cent of votes in the write-in category, distant second to Hamilton receiver/returner Chris Williams, who garnered 42.9 per cent of ballots.

Another Mack acquisition in 2012 — running back Chad Simpson — also received multiple votes in the most-underrated player category, while Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson tied for second in the most-overrated player category.

While the voters in 2012 didn’t much care for Mack, they loved new Bombers head coach Tim Burke. Burke won the nice guy write-in category with 11.9 per cent of the ballots and finished in a tie for first with Saskatchewan field boss Cory Chamblin as the league’s best quote in the coaching category.

Burke might want to share his secret with Bombers backup quarterback Joey Elliott. Despite playing in just half of the Bombers’ regular season games in 2012, Elliott still won the "worst player quote" in the league category, garnering 10.5 per cent of the responses in a write-in category.

 

Welcome to the 10th annual Grey Cup Media Poll.

The Winnipeg Free Press and Calgary Herald earlier this month polled print, radio and television journalists who regularly cover the CFL. Surveys were sent out prior to the playing of the East and West semifinals and the responses were due last week, prior to the playing of last weekend’s East and West Finals.

Forty-two journalists responded, an increase of 10 per cent over the 2011 response rate.

Here are their answers to 25 questions, with the percentage of vote each answer received:

1. Best player to get a quote from:

1. Nik Lewis 26.1

2. Henry Burris 14.3

3. Angus Reid 9.5

Behind the numbers: The reporters love him, but Lewis can run his mouth a little too far at times — witness last week’s O.J. Simpson ‘joke’ he sent out on his Twitter account that prompted a fine from the CFL and led Lewis to donate his game cheque from the West final to a women’s shelter to make amends.

 

2. Best coach to get a quote from:

1. Tim Burke/Cory Chamblin 26.1

3. Kavis Reed 14.3

Behind the numbers: It’s interesting that all three of these guys posted losing records this season. There’s something to be said for keeping your head — and your sense of humour — even when things are going badly.

 

3. Worst player to get a quote from:

1. Joey Elliott 10.5

2. Weston Dressler/Chip Cox 7.9

Behind the numbers: In defence of Elliott, it’s not so much that his quotes are bad — he’s actually very friendly and talkative. The problem is more that Elliott’s quotes are often so divorced from reality, it leaves reporters wondering whether he’s being deliberately dishonest or simply delusional.

 

4. Worst coach to get a quote from:

1. George Cortez 42.9

2. Marc Trestman 28.6

3. John Hufnagel 23.8

Behind the numbers: With Hufnagel and Trestman, you get the feeling as a reporter that they’re holding back because they’re weirdly paranoid. But with Cortez, you get the feeling he’s holding back because he genuinely hates your guts. Hufnagel had won this category a record four years in a row heading into this season.

 

5. Next CFL player who could make it big in the NFL:

1. Chris Williams 42.9

2. Chris Matthews 16.7

3. Jovan Olafioye 9.5

Behind the numbers: Williams ran away with this category, which is interesting since many of the same voters selected another East Division receiver/returner, Toronto’s Chad Owens, over Williams as the East Division nominee for Most Outstanding Player this season. Owens finished fourth in this category.

 

6. How confident are you that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will open the 2014 season with their new stadium completely finished?

Very confident/reasonably confident — 54.8

Not very confident/never going to happen — 45.2

Behind the numbers: More than a few voters pointed out that the much better question than where the Ticats are going to play in 2014 is where are they going to play in 2013 now that Ivor Wynne Stadium is being demolished to make way for the new stadium. That answer finally emerged Tuesday with the announcement Hamilton will play most, if not all, of their games in 2013 at the University of Guelph.

 

7. How confident are you that the Saskatchewan Roughriders will have a new stadium in place by the 2017 season?

Very confident/reasonably confident — 90.2

Not very confident/Never going to happen — 9.8

Behind the numbers: Several voters pointed out that the people who are going to make a new stadium happen for the Riders — the politicians — are also among the team’s biggest fans. It helps, in other words, when the guy paying the green is also wearing it.

 

8. Still on the topic of stadiums, which stadium needs upgrades or replacement the most (apart from the Hamilton and Saskatchewan facilities)?

McMahon Stadium — 46.3

Rogers Centre — 34.1

Percival Molson Stadium — 9.8

Behind the numbers: It’s one of the mysteries of Canadian football that a city as awash in oil money as Calgary has a dump like McMahon as their marquee sports venue. Rogers Centre is simply way too big for Canadian football and there’s still been no good explanation for why the Argos couldn’t have cut a deal with FC Toronto to share 22,000-seat BMO Field. Molson Stadium is funky, cool and downtown, but it’s not for everyone.

 

9. Your advice to Buck Pierce?

1. Retire — 66.7

2. Return in a backup capacity — 14.3

3. Get rid of the ball quicker, be more careful — 9.5

Behind the numbers: A few clowns made light of Pierce’s ongoing health problems, but most offered expressions of genuine concern. "Think about your life in 20 years," urged one respondent. "Do you want to be able to pick up your grandkids one day," asked another.

 

10. Most overrated player?

1. Andy Fantuz — 23.8

2. Cory Boyd/Jovon Johnson/Henry Burris — 11.9

Behind the numbers: How the mighty have fallen. Fantuz has gone from the most coveted free agent last winter to the most overrated player in the league, while Johnson has gone from the top defensive player in the league in 2011 to the second-most overrated. And Burris threw 43 touchdown passes this year. Go figure.

 

11. Most underrated player?

1. Charleston Hughes/Dante Marsh/Hugh Charles — 9.8

Behind the numbers: Calgary QB Kevin Glenn finished alone in fourth with 7.3 per cent of the votes — a number that surely would have been higher if the voting was concluded after the West final, instead of before it.

 

12. The Nice Guy award: player/coach you’d love to sit down and have a beer with:

1. Tim Burke — 11.9

2. Anthony Calvillo/Mike Benevides/Geroy Simon — 7.1

Behind the numbers: Burke comes across as humble and self-deprecating and exactly what you’d expect from a guy who grew up in tiny Homestead, Iowa. The players love him, so do the reporters and the fact the national media anointed him the best quote in the league after just 10 weeks as Winnipeg head coach speaks volumes to how personable he really is.

 

13. Biggest jerk award:

1. Khalif Mitchell — 28.6

2. George Cortez — 14.3

3. Joe Mack — 11.9

Behind the numbers: With an opportunity to select anyone from a pool of about 500 players and coaches, it is a monument to Mitchell’s disagreeableness that 28.6 per cent of the voters, acting entirely independently of one another, landed on his name. And here’s something quirky — the fourth biggest jerk in the CFL in 2012 was someone you probably never even heard of — Saskatchewan offensive line coach Kris Sweet.

 

14. CFL coach/GM who did the best job with his team in 2012:

1. John Hufnagel — 42.9

2. Scott Milanovich — 19.0

3, Mike Benevides — 16.7

Behind the numbers: Kudos to the voters who overwhelmingly gave the nod to Hufnagel even before his Stampeders advanced to the Grey Cup with a win over B.C. With all kinds of injuries to deal with this season — most notably at starting quarterback — the folks in Calgary think this season might go down as Hufnagel’s finest hour.

 

15. CFL coach/GM who did the worst job with his team in 2012:

1. Joe Mack — 38.2

2. George Cortez/Eric Tillman — 30.9

Behind the numbers: Every single vote in this category this year went to one of these three men. And what a race to the bottom it was between the guy who gave away Ricky Ray, the guy who missed the playoffs despite a starting quarterback who threw 43 touchdown passes and the guy who... well... Joe Mack.

 

16. The next general manager of the Edmonton Eskimos is:

1. Ed Hervey — 45.2

2. Kavis Reed — 21.4

Behind the numbers: Remember when the Eskimos used to be considered a model CFL franchise, on the field and off? Yeah, us neither.

 

17. Eric Tillman’s next job?

1. TV — 28.6

2. Ottawa — 23.8

3. Winnipeg — 9.5

Behind the numbers: Tillman also got two votes for going on unemployment insurance and two votes for going into sales (used cars, snake oil). Most specific prediction for Tillman’s future? "Winnipeg, around mid-August, 2013."

 

18. With Rough Riders apparently not available, what should the new Ottawa franchise be named?

We got 26 different answers, many of them along a theme tweaking Saskatchewan for refusing to allow the new Ottawa franchise to reclaim their old name. A sampling: "Gentle Riders, Ride Roughers, Ruff Ryders." The second funniest answer: "Roughriders." The funniest answer (from two voters): "Blue Bombers."

 

19. Pet peeve about the CFL?

Wow, do reporters like to whine. In no particular order: lousy closed practices, lousy no yards, lousy discipline, lousy crowds, lousy game-times, lousy availability, lousy fans voting for lousy all-stars, lousy video reviews, lousy salary disclosure, lousy Argos coverage in Toronto, lousy eight teams, lousy media relations directors, lousy crossovers and lousy commercials. Oh, and lousy reporters.

 

20. Does Joe Mack deserve another year in Winnipeg?

Yes — 12.5

No — 87.5

Behind the Numbers: Four different voters actually cast their ballot as, "Hell No!" and a bunch of others just made their one-word answer all uppercase, "NO."

 

You be the GM lightning round:

— Backup QB Ottawa should pick if the expansion draft were held today:

1. Mike Reilly — 45.2

2. Adrian McPherson — 16.7

3. Kevin Glenn — 11.9

 

— One game for the championship, your coach would be:

1. Marc Trestman — 85.0

2. John Hufnagel — 12.5

3. Cory Chamblin — 2.5

 

— One game for the championship, your QB would be:

1. Travis Lulay — 52.5

2. Anthony Calvillo — 35.0

3. Ricky Ray — 12.5

 

— Kicker you’d most trust on a 40-yarder to win the championship:

1. Paul McCallum — 50.0

2. Rene Paredes — 23.9

3. Luca Congi — 11.9

 

— First Canadian you’d sign if all were available:

1. Jon Cornish — 45.2

2. Andrew Harris — 30.9

3. Josh Bourke — 7.1

 

— First import you’d sign if all were available:

1. Travis Lulay — 50.0

2. Chad Owens — 14.3

3. Chris Williams — 11.9

 

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

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