Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

LaPolice, Mack achieve impossible

They've screwed up the perfect situation

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No one ever said Joe Mack was going to be a saviour for the listing Winnipeg Blue Bombers franchise.

In fact, if you recall, the initial hiring of the GM was greeted with the response, "Joe who?" Then along came Paul LaPolice, an out-of-the-box hire over the likes of candidates such as former Bombers defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall (now with the Tiger-Cats) and Jim Barker, who eventually ended up in Toronto as about Choice No. 4. Look at Barker now.

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Neither Mack nor LaPolice were on anybody's radar screens in Winnipeg. But in an environment poisoned by nearly two decades of failure -- not to mention three disposed head coaches in the previous five years (Jim Daley, Doug Berry, Mike Kelly) -- there was a mood for rejecting the status quo.

Besides, in the torched aftermath of the brief and tumultuous Kelly regime, the thirst for stability and respectability was considered paramount. And since Mack oozed class and professionalism -- regardless of his 15-something year estrangement from the CFL -- the move was widely applauded.

So if Mack christened LaPolice, a young, squeaky clean, offensively-minded head coach as symbolic of a new era in Bomberville, the prevailing attitude was, "Why not? How could it possibly get worse."

Yeah, LaPolice would be a rookie, but didn't he evoke memories of a new generation's Mike Riley. And, hey, everybody's got to start somewhere.

Right from the opening of training camp, both Mack and LaPolice had two Get Out of Jail Free cards; they weren't the last guys and they had a clean slate.

Then there was the implicit message that stability requires patience, and even when it all went drastically sideways after a promising 2-2 start, what were critics supposed to do? Fire up the clean house machine? Again?

And to what end? The Bombers board hired Mack. Mack hired LaPolice. Hence the notion that -- in the first season of rebuilding, combined with the sordid recent past -- nobody's job security was in question. It was a non-starter.

Such forgiveness would surely be news to the likes of Daley, Kelly and Berry -- Berry unceremoniously fired after an 8-10 season when the Bombers hosted a playoff game, just one year removed from a Grey Cup appearance. But we digress.

Without question, local media and fans have lived up to their end of the bargain. They have been patient.

They have been understanding. Just the fact that almost 23,500 fans paid actual money to witness that abomination on Saturday at Canad Inns Stadium is testament to the goodwill which has been generously afforded to a franchise 20 years and counting without a championship.

What has it gotten them in return? A dreadful 4-12 season that is effectively over before Halloween. It got them a team that, offensively, was less effective in October than in July. It got them empty promises and, worse, the sinking feeling that perhaps the Bombers board made a mistake in hiring Mack. And Mack made a mistake in hiring LaPolice. And LaPolice made a mistake in sending out a rookie kicker to attempt a 51-yard field goal into the freaking wind returned for 109-yard touchdown on Saturday. And so forth.

A new regime requires patience. I get it. But, come on, Kelly was a horrible head coach (but an excellent circus barker) and he went 7-11. With Michael Bishop, for heaven's sake.

Sure, there was all those oh-so-close losses, which can suggest a team on the verge of better days. But how does that explain losing 27-8, at home, to the Argos, with so much at stake?

How does it explain the equally challenged Lions and Eskimos winning games they shouldn't, when it matters, and the Bombers losing badly in a game they were favoured to win?

It doesn't. Which is exactly why this season, and LaPolice's success as a coach and Mack's grade as a GM, should be judged on how monumentally disappointed the Bombers' lost season ended.

They wanted patience. They got it, far more than they've earned. All that talk of restoring professionalism to the franchise? Good for them. But in any other place, in any other time, that would fall under the category of "Doing your job."

From this day forth, consider any grace either expected or required fully consumed. The tank is empty.

Yes, Mack and LaPolice will be back for 2011. But if you think they're going to start the season with a 0-0 record in terms of their tenure, think again.

It's true. No one expected salvation or a magic elixir. Nobody signed up for four stinking wins, either.

Indeed, you could have asked yourself way back in June, with so much goodwill in the bank and the bar set so low, how could anybody screw this up?

Good question. But they did anyway.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2010 C1


Updated on Monday, October 25, 2010 at 10:22 AM CDT: Corrects typo.

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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