Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue GM staying cool in hot seat

Mack says struggles mere growing pains

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With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers off to an 0-3 start and coming off a 42-10 shellacking in Edmonton last Friday night, fans are growing restless with a team that opened at 7-1 last season, won the East Division and went all the way to the Grey Cup.

The man at the centre of the storm is Bombers GM Joe Mack, who's been a particular target for criticism on Twitter and elsewhere since the Edmonton loss.

The Free Press sat down with Mack on Sunday to put the criticisms directly to him. Here's an edited transcript of the interview:


Wiecek: Between the 0-3 start, the long list of injuries and the inability of Buck Pierce to reliably finish a game, some people think drastic change is required immediately. Do you?

"From a fan perspective, I think it's understandable. Obviously, we didn't expect to be 0-3. But if you start to break it down, I thought there'd be a learning curve for us. We are still the youngest team in the league. We have a lot of young players...

"We're missing our starting Canadian slotback (Cory Watson) and on defence we have a lot of key injuries, particularly (starting LB) Marcellus Bowman, (starting DB) Alex Suber and (starting SAM) Brandon Stewart. Those are all really good players... I don't think you can minimize the effect of all those injuries. It's not an excuse, but it is the reality."

Wiecek: Does Buck Pierce retain your full confidence as the starting quarterback of this team? Is there a limit to the patience you can continue to show with all his injuries? Are we nearing it?

"I don't think we're really at that point. I think you have to look at the amalgamation of the whole season. To to try and make these snap judgments now I don't think would be fair to anybody -- or constructive. We'll just see how the season progresses and hopefully Buck gets better and is able to contribute."

Wiecek: With the benefit of hindsight, is there any move you've made since last November that you now consider a mistake?

"I think it's too early to say that. When we make decisions, I feel they're pretty well thought out. They may not turn out properly, but they're pretty well thought out. You can't predict anything in life or in football...I think we've found some good young players who have stepped up and done some good things so far. I think some other guys will continue to do that...And some of the other things just had to be done in the overall best interests of the club."

Wiecek: Let's go through some specific decisions you've made: Your team has five sacks in three games -- and all of them were by tackle Bryant Turner. Was trading rush end Odell Willis to Saskatchewan a mistake?

"I wish Odell all the best in the world. But that was a very, very deliberate decision -- it was the appropriate time for things to move on."

Wiecek: Clint Kent recovered a fumble and scored a touchdown against your team on Friday. Any regrets releasing him?

"I think we have a really talented young crop of defensive backs. And I think every one of them is capable of being a productive starter in the CFL. The coaches had to decide if they wanted to let some of those good young guys go. They decided not to (and released Kent instead) and I fully support them.

"And with no disrespect to Clint, because I think the world of him, you, me and our grandmothers could have picked up that ball and kind of strolled in. So that play, in and of itself, wasn't indicative of some sort of phenomenal play."

Wiecek: Knowing what you now know, would you have chosen to be a little more aggressive in the free agent market over the winter?

"No. We tried very hard to keep Brendon LaBatte and there were some ramifications to that... We had to carve out a significant amount of money if we were going to get Brendon and that did kind of preclude being aggressive in some other areas. Unfortunately, the way it turned out, we didn't find out we weren't going to get Brendon until the very end. And any other moves we may have made, were already down the road.

"I feel really good about our Canadian wide receivers and wouldn't have done anything there. I think our young Canadian offensive linemen are going to step up. And then there wasn't anybody that I can recall off the top of my head who was a free agent Canadian that has signed and is making a significant contribution right now."

Wiecek: Dominic Picard in Saskatchewan, maybe?

"Yeah, Picard. And that's somebody we would have had an interest in...but we could not afford to pay what he made and pay Brendon at the same time. So we had a strategy -- we knew Brendon, he was one of us, so we had to make an offer... And then after (LaBatte signed with Saskatchewan), I made a call on Picard, but he'd already decided to go to Saskatchewan, too."

Wiecek: How much of your team's current problems can be tracked back to the team's decision to open with four games on the road in the mistaken belief it would allow you enough time to move into the new stadium?

"Nobody in this organization feels good about that. It's definitely a challenge and something we have to work through."

Wiecek: Do you still believe that this team, as presently constituted, has all the elements necessary to win a Grey Cup?

"I do. It's going to be predicated on a few things. Our offensive line is going to have to mature. We'll have to get more consistent on offence, which we're very aware of. And we'll have to continue to grow on defence. I think Paul has really kept an even keel. We had extensive meetings (on Saturday). I have a lot of confidence in defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke and offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton...

"And what would you change? I really believe we have really good talent. We just haven't jelled as a unit."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 16, 2012 C1

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