Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Last chance for Mack

If Blue don't win next year (which of course is the GM's plan) he's gone

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Joe MACK was not retained for his record. Certainly a 19-34 mark and a .358 winning percentage through all but one game of three seasons on the job cannot be deemed a success.

No, Mack was brought back because the organization believes he has the right plan and it is about to bear fruit.

We're going to see about that, aren't we?

Among the positives attached to keeping Mack -- continuity, fiscal responsibility -- is the prospect of finding out once and for all if he is indeed the man for the job.

That answer will be apparent next season. There will be no more ambiguity on Mack. Once and for all we'll know if he's got the parts to lead this organization.

"We are in the winning business. The expectation for Joe, Tim (Burke) and myself is to win. We'll be held accountable for wins and how we play next year," said Blue Bombers CEO Garth Buchko. "Next year we have to win. We could line up excuses for this year. But we're not in the excuse business. We have to be responsible. There are no excuses next year. We have to be accountable to wins."

Chairman of the board Bill Watchorn echoed Buchko.

"The team plays Blue Bomber football and they're in every game and they have a chance to win every game. That would be a successful transition," said Watchorn. "I want to be in the playoffs every year. I think missing the playoffs is unacceptable."

There it is. Black and white. No soap opera. Joe Mack will put a winning team on the field and they'll get to the playoffs -- or he won't.

The rebuild is over. It's now time to produce results. Mack says the young fruit is about to ripen. The only problem, it seems, is who will pass the fruit. You know, who will be the QB? It's usually a pretty big question in football. From Pop Warner to the CFL and NFL.

Do the Bombers have an answer? Mack says not yet. And that's scary. He's had three years to solve this riddle and he's no further ahead. The next seven months had better be productive at the pivot spot for Joe or he's in trouble, if we are to believe Buchko and Watchorn.

Did Buchko ask Mack what he would do about the quarterback position?

"Yeah, I did," said Buchko. "He said, 'I'll fix it.' "

Buchko said he spent the better part of the last month reviewing the organization's football operations department. Firing Mack was on the table but Buchko decided against it.

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

"I did a lot of assessment of the football club from top to bottom. I talked to a lot of knowledgable football people. The toughest thing is to dismantle an organization. I'm looking for stability. Joe's record of bringing in people is fabulous. This year is an example of the great young talent we have. Stability for the football club has been missing for a lot of years."

That's all fine and well except it hasn't produced enough wins. Buchko understands the time for talking about talent and repeating excuses is over.

Mack defended his record, pointing to injuries and other "hiccups" as the cause for this season's disappointing results and 5-12 record.

"We were in first place last year and made it to the Grey Cup. And although we had some hiccups, I still think that we have overall, the quality of talent of players to get there again," Mack said. "We have to get more consistency in our quarterback play and that's something we're going to have to work our way through."

Mack is right about one thing. What the Bombers do next season, and any season, will revolve around the quarterback play.

The GM has had three seasons to solve the biggest issue all CFL teams face and Winnipeg cannot say with any confidence they have a clear plan behind centre.

Buck Pierce has been the team's starter for three seasons and when he's healthy and able to finish games he's a proven winner with a 12-5 record in those situations. But he has failed to complete almost 50 per cent of his starts and the team has failed to reach the post-season in two of his three years as the No. 1. In short, he's unreliable.

Bringing back Buck wouldn't seem to be the answer. But before he's jettisoned there has to be a better solution. So far Mack hasn't been able to produce one.

It's all about that one spot now. The rest, as they say, is just conversation.

The clock is officially ticking on Mack. And it's beginning to race. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 C3

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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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