Paul LaPolice will travel to the CFL Congress meetings this week as a coach- of-the-year candidate, but not safe in the knowledge he'll be coach for the year with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Despite taking his club to the Grey Cup last year, LaPolice has not been offered a new contract by general manager Joe Mack and will enter this season in the final year of his three-year deal unless something changes between now and training camp.
Mack was signed to an extension by the Bombers board this winter but has yet to offer the same security to his head coach.
Entering the season in the last year of a contract can't be comforting to LaPolice and sends a poor message to the players and staff.
It's a little early to be calling LaPolice a lame duck, but that's exactly what Mack is setting him up to be.
It's no secret Mack has been displeased with the progress of his team's offence and he demanded the firing of offensive co-ordinator Jamie Barresi this off-season. When LaPolice pushed for offensive coach Pat DelMonaco to be promoted, the GM took matters into his own hands and hired Gary Crowton for the co-ordinator position.
The move spoke volumes to the football world: LaPolice is not free to hire his own staff and Mack is asserting himself well beyond his GM duties. He's beginning to meddle.
There's a lack of confidence here and it extends to the point of Mack not wanting to go out on a limb and give LaPolice more time on his ticket.
That would put Mack in the line of fire with the Bombers board should he have to go to them sometime this summer with the message he's firing LaPolice. "Oh, by the way, that guy I just re-signed a couple months ago, I need to clip him now and we're on the hook for two more years of salary."
Mack is a political animal and has currency with key members of the board, but that can change in a New York minute. Just ask Lyle Bauer, who one minute was CEO for life and the next was digging between his shoulder blades for any number of knives.
Having LaPolice on his current contract makes things easy and cheap for Mack should a change be needed. It's counterproductive, however, and having a coach worrying about his security is a recipe for disaster.
Coaching scared never works, and for a young coach like LaPolice, it's akin to setting him up to fail.
Mack has to know this and he must be torn. He hired LaPolice and naturally wants him to succeed. But his self-preservation instincts are preventing him from putting his coach in the best possible situation.
For Mack not to give LaPolice an extension, he must have it somewhere in his mind that a change may be needed. If the Bombers start out slow, Mack may be of the opinion he'll have to pull the trigger and bump defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke into the big chair.
Having LaPolice work under these circumstances is unfair and undeserved. After taking his lumps for the organization in his first year on the job, he made big strides last season as the personnel Mack put in place began to make progress.
LaPolice earned a home playoff game and then he went out and won it.
The Grey Cup saw the Bombers get outclassed by the B.C. Lions in almost every regard, but Bud Grant himself couldn't have gotten Winnipeg over the hump in that game.
LaPolice has earned the right to have some security and shouldn't be forced to walk into this season without it. If it turns out he needs to be fired at some point, so be it.
That's part of the cost of doing business in pro sport.
Putting your people in a position to fail? That's just bad business.
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