Blue Bomber Report Record: 4–1–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers stay course with Mack and Burke

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have decided to stay the course and gamble that history is about to repeat itself.

By announcing Thursday the club has decided to retain both GM Joe Mack and head coach Tim Burke for the 2013 season, the club's CEO Garth Buchko -- and, by extension, the Bombers board of directors -- is wagering that the sudden turnaround in the team's fortunes that occurred between a 4-14 season in 2010 and a Grey Cup appearance in 2011 can happen again between this season's debacle and next year.

The gamble, of course, is that if Buchko and company are wrong and a 5-12 Winnipeg team that has missed the CFL playoffs three of the last four years makes it four for five in 2013, they will almost certainly have a fan revolt on their hands at the same time as the club will finally move to its long-awaited, oft-delayed -- and very expensive -- new stadium.

Buchko told a news conference Thursday afternoon that while money is always an issue, the two remaining years on Mack's contract had nothing to do with his decision -- after what he says was a month-long personal review -- to keep the embattled GM on for another season.

Instead, Buchko cited Mack's success in bringing in exciting new talent this season and the need for some organizational stability.

"What ultimately sealed my decision (was) I am just not ready to dismantle this organization and start over from scratch," said Buchko. "In business as in sports, success comes when you have stability in the leadership position."

The rehiring of Burke and Mack was the worst kept secret in town, with the Free Press reporting 10 days ago that both men would be rehired.

All of which made the abrupt and ham-handed timing of Thursday morning's official announcement even more curious, overshadowing as it did a previously scheduled event at which busts of the newest inductees into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame -- including former Bombers greats Milt Stegall and Tyrone Jones -- were being unveiled as part of a special Hall of Fame Weekend the CFL awarded Winnipeg last summer.

The appearance of Mack before the microphones on Thursday was the GM's first on-the-record session with the media since early September. Numerous requests by the media for access to Mack in the intervening months were all refused and Buchko was asked Thursday if that kind of accountability was acceptable in the GM of a community-owned football team.

"I don't mandate Joe's day-timer," said Buchko, before adding he believes as a general proposition everyone in the Bombers organization needs to be accessible to the media and, by extension, the fans.

The decision to retain Mack won't be popular among many of those Bombers fans, a large chorus of whom have called for his head since he fired Paul LaPolice as head coach in late August. The Bombers were 2-6 at the time and have gone 3-6 since, which is not exactly the turnaround anyone -- least of all Mack -- was hoping for when the club decided to eat the year-and-a-half remaining on LaPolice's contract and replace him with Burke.

At the same time, some of the moves Mack was most criticized for prior to LaPolice's firing are now, at season's end, looking pretty good.

An offensive line, for instance, that made gaping holes for a 1,000-yard runner in CFL rookie Chad Simpson was also among the stingiest lines in the CFL at yielding sacks during the last third of the season. Taken together, it makes all the furor about Mack's failure to re-sign guard Brendon LaBatte last winter appear a bit overdone.

The same can be said for the criticism of Mack's failure last winter to re-sign free agent wide receiver Greg Carr, which looks like a brilliant decision now since the man Mack replaced Carr with -- Chris Matthews -- will in all likelihood be named the CFL rookie of the year later this month.

And finally, for all the wringing of hands that went on after Mack traded team sack leader Odell Willis to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, he promptly replaced him with Alex Hall, whose nine sacks led the CFL before a knee injury ended his season last month.

The gamble the Bombers have decided to make in keeping Mack and Burke is that they're not as far from a championship contender as a 5-12 record might initially appear.

And they do have a measure of history on their side in that proposition.

Mack was roundly criticized for failing to make major personnel moves following the 4-14 season in 2010, but the GM's stand-pat approach was vindicated with a Grey Cup appearance in 2011.

The hope now is that at least part of this year's poor record -- like the one in 2010 -- was a result of a string of injuries that kept No. 1 quarterback Buck Pierce out of the lineup.

In support of that proposition is the fact that in the only year Pierce has been a healthy and reliable starter in Winnipeg -- he started 18 of 20 games in 2011 -- the team Mack built went to the Grey Cup game.

Mack said Thursday it's too early to say if Pierce will be Winnipeg's starting quarterback next season. But don't bet against it.

No one thought Mack was going to be back either. And look how that worked out.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

more CFL coverage C2, 3, 6

 

How do

they compare?

 

Here's a look at how the Bombers fared this season before and after Tim Burke took over for Paul LaPolice in August:

 

OVERALL WIN-LOSS RECORD

Under LaPolice: 2-6

Under Burke: 3-6

 

HOME RECORD

Under LaPolice: 2-2

Under Burke: 1-3

 

ROAD RECORD

Under LaPolice: 0-4

Under Burke: 2-3

 

AVERAGE POINTS SCORED

PER GAME

Under LaPolice: 22.0 (last)

Under Burke: 20.1 (still last)

 

AVERAGE POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME

Under LaPolice : 30.5 (7th)

Under Burke: 30.7 (still 7th)

 

AVERAGE NUMBER

OF PENALTIES PER GAME

Under Lapolice: 10.1 per game

Under Burke: 9.2 per game

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 C1

History

Updated on Friday, November 2, 2012 at 1:29 PM CDT: changed picture

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