Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Don't come down on LaPo too soon, OK?

He's leading new recruits into four foreign battlefields

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The fickle among us will want Paul LaPolice fired should the Bombers stumble early, but in reality, if he can coax one win out of his team in their first four games, the third-year coach will have done a helluva job.

Four on the road to start, only eight practice days between Game 1 and Game 4, a new offensive co-ordinator and all kinds of roster turnover -- LaPo is in deep. If he can keep one hand on the wheel while using the other to put out brush fires -- a Twitter flap, player mutiny or some other disaster -- he'll have done well.

His team lost eight of its last 12 a year ago and he was a coach-of-the-year candidate. Should he manage to be .500 at the four-game pole, they should hand him the bench-boss trophy.

According to Paul Bessire of, home teams historically have won 59.3 per cent of their games in the CFL.

An average CFL team is just 2.7 per cent likely to win four consecutive road games. A 3-1 record in those games is 16.8 per cent likely, meaning that going .500 or having a losing record in those games would happen in more than four out of five times. LaPolice should want to choke whoever came up with this scheme.

This is an immense challenge, and considering he's going into it without two major leadership pillars in Doug Brown (retired) and Brendon Labatte (now cloaked in Riders green), LaPolice will need new players to step up and help keep this team together.

Could they fall apart and be lost for the season? That's a strong possibility if LaPolice can't stay calm in the storm and summon all his coaching acumen. He'll need support from top lieutenants Tim Burke and Gary Crowton, and a greater presence around the locker-room by GM Joe Mack won't hurt either.

LaPo can't do this alone, nor should that be expected.

"Hopefully, we won't be in that spot (winless after four games)," Mack said Wednesday morning. "I have to give Paul a lot of kudos. Obviously it's a challenge to play four in a row on the road and criss-cross the country and play in different time zones every week, but Paul hasn't used it as an excuse. It is what it is. Hopefully that won't occur, but these are trying circumstances, and I won't be prone to a quick judgment."

"Hopefully, I would be understanding in that regard and understand that we could rebound and still have a good season."

Somehow, LaPolice must find a way to keep his group focused and upbeat. A win in Game 1 or 2 would give him a fighting chance, but if this begins to slide the other way, he'll need help just to hang on.

No matter how many times he tells you it's not a factor, LaPolice has been put in a terrible situation by circumstances that have unfolded due to the new stadium.

The Bombers board and a few high-ranking non-football employees made the disastrous decision last summer to go forward on the assumption the new stadium would be ready for this season.

They petitioned the CFL for a schedule that would allow them to open the home portion of their season in their new digs. To do that, the league formed a schedule putting the Bombers on the road for four straight to begin the 2012 season.

Now the stadium won't be ready this year. We should have known that just by driving by the site this past winter. The Bomberland decision-makers should have known it too, but that's already well-plowed ground.

LaPolice and his players are the men who must now pay for those sins, and they may do so with losses, but they should not pay with their jobs.

Fortunately, the first weeks of the CFL season are played by unprepared teams after a short training camp, and there is the inevitable roster turnover in a league many players use as a development stop. Only two pre-season games make for sloppy play until the second month of the season.

"Camp is short, and it's the nature of your league now that you're going to have turnover. It's difficult to be ready," Mack said. "We have these games on the road, but maybe it turns out to be a chance for us to get some momentum. And as B.C. showed last year (the Lions lost their first five games and many were calling for head coach Wally Buono to be fired), you can start out rough and gel later in the season."

The old saying in the CFL is that the season doesn't begin until after Labour Day. LaPolice needs to get to Labour Day with a chance to be in the hunt. That's his task now, and Mack has realistic expectations.

I wonder if the same can be said for the rest of us. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2012 C1

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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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