Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–3–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Alouettes are pros; Bombers are not

Montreal fires coach; Blue still have Mack

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The Montreal Alouettes were able to acknowledge a mistake and then make a swift, decisive move because they know what football excellence and capability look like. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers do not.

The differences in the franchises are startling in both record and management method. They were made evident once again Thursday morning.

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It took the Alouettes, winners of three Grey Cups since the Bombers were last able to call themselves champs in 1990, five games to realize Dan Hawkins was not the right coach to lead their team.

The Blue Bombers have had GM Joe Mack in charge for four years at a .350 winning percentage and still haven't come to the realization he's a bad fit.

Actually, that's not true. The organization did come to the decision to fire Mack last season and began to court TSN analyst Duane Forde to be his replacement.

But a late-season burst buoyed the club's record to 6-12 and suckered CEO Garth Buchko into thinking the status quo was the best answer for the organization.

This year's 1-4 record and rapid descent into disarray suggest Buchko's waffling was a rookie error.

Buchko can be forgiven such a mistake, as nothing in his Hall of Fame radio sales career prepared him to make critical football evaluations. The same can be said about the entire 12-person board above Buchko, and it's why the Bombers find themselves in the sorry state they are in today.

Montreal's ability to evaluate and react underscores how ill-prepared the Bombers are in terms of both personnel and structure to handle key decisions such as who should be coaching and managing the team.

Alouettes owner Bob Wetenhall and GM Jim Popp are proven owner-operators of a professional sports franchise. When they make a mistake, they recognize it and act.

The Blue Bombers aren't capable of such a distinction and subsequent manoeuvre. If they were, Mack would never have been hired. Or, second choice, would have been fired long ago.

Mack is in his fourth year running the Blue Bombers and it has not gone well. His teams have posted a collective 21-and-38 record and have yet to identify or develop a quarterback to carry the club into a new era of on-field prosperity.

After declaring this past off-season that Buck Pierce was the man to carry that particular torch, Mack and coach Tim Burke reversed field Thursday and named Justin Goltz the starter for the remainder of the year. Goltz is a project and may or may not pan out, but Mack is now gambling the rest of this season and likely his job security on a pivot with one CFL career start.

Really, it's inexcusable that Mack has put the organization, its fans and Burke in this position. Especially when capable veteran Kevin Glenn could have been had in the off-season for a draft pick. Mike Reilly was also acquired by Edmonton this off-season for draft picks, and while the book is still out on him, he's well ahead of Goltz at this stage.

Mack is a solid personnel man, capable of viewing film or putting an athlete through a workout and recognizing his abilities.

But he's not an effective GM, as his terrible record and equally poor roster indicate.

Mack had been out of football for a decade and the CFL for 20-plus years when the Bombers board inexplicably tapped him for the GM job in 2010.

It was an off-the-board hire, but that doesn't make it a bad decision. What has transpired since, however, does. Keeping him in charge has compounded the error.

The folks on the board are good people with solid track records in other areas of business. But they're not football people and not up to making football decisions.

Same goes with Buchko.

So who is minding the store? No one. And that's why Mack has been able to perpetuate his hold over the team despite running it into the ground. The concept of private ownership has been bandied about for some time in Winnipeg, but it's not based in reality. The team has stadium debt in the neighbourhood of $100 million.

I would say no one would be willing to purchase the franchise under such a heavy financial responsibility. Someone recently bought the Phoenix Coyotes, so I guess there's always hope.

But it's highly unlikely. Thousands have suggested True North should purchase the Bombers, but for the already explained reason, that's not going to happen.

The provincial government has quietly floated purchase or management scenarios in True North's direction at different junctures and not even received a nibble.

No surprise there. True North probably wants to make sure it has a handle on successfully operating its NHL franchise before taking on a size triple-extra-large headache such as the Blue Bombers.

No, you're stuck with the board and the way they do business -- which isn't good news for the Blue Bombers or your tax dollars.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2013 C1

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