Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mack complete failure as GM

No way his 16-29 record can possibly be justified

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers board of directors made a decision to turn back the clock and hire Joe Mack in the winter of 2010 with the best of intentions.

The Blue Bombers are now 16-29 under Mack, who returned to the Bombers after a 20-year hiatus from the CFL and a near decade-long absence from pro football.

This was a risky hire, as Paul Robson (no longer on the board) and the rest of the directors reached back to 1987 to bring Mack, the former director of player personnel, back to Winnipeg. The results are in, and while it's almost a certainty the board won't act on Mack right now, this hire can't be defended. Mack was a solid personnel guy back in the day, but as a GM he's been a failure.

Winnipeg went 4-14 in Year 1 as Mack got his bearings. Surprisingly, they made a surge in Year 2 to finish 10-8 and reach the Grey Cup. Year 3 has been a return to Mack's humble beginnings and the club is 2-7 at the midway point. The potential for another 4-14 campaign is real. But let's be generous and say the Bombers go 4-5 over their last nine to finish 6-12. Mack would then be 20-34 as GM of the Bombers. Is that good enough?

Absolutely not.

This is an eight-team league where a rebuild should take a season or maybe two. Mack's football teams have established a trend. They are losers.

Mack's supporters will argue the record doesn't reflect the talent he's assembled. OK, let's investigate that theory for a minute. In the CFL it's widely accepted the most important work a GM can do is at quarterback, followed closely by his cultivating and keeping Canadian talent.

The Bombers have four quarterbacks under contract in Buck Pierce, Joey Elliott, Alex Brink and Justin Goltz. Winnipeg undeniably has the worst quarterbacking in the CFL right now.

Canadians Cory Watson, Henoc Muamba, Ian Logan and Chris Greaves are legitimate starters. After that, the Canadian depth is very shallow.

Flunk. Double-flunk.

Mack has done a fine job signing free-agent imports. I would argue this is the least difficult job of a GM in the CFL. There are more good U.S. college players than there are spots in pro football. It's not hard to sift through the NFL's leftovers and bring effective players to Canada. Every team in the CFL does it with regularity. Is it a skill? Sure, but it's the work of a scout or personnel director. Not a GM.

There's no question Mack knows a football player when he sees one and he delivered players to Cal Murphy that won a Grey Cup and to Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins that won a Super Bowl. Mack has a pedigree as a player personnel man but that's a different role from GM. In his current role, Mack has undoubtedly struggled.

Quarterbacks and Canadians. Priority No. 1 and No. 2 for every team in this league, have been a disaster under Mack's supervision.

Mack fired Paul LaPolice in an effort to shift the blame to the head coach he hired. Sunday's 52-0 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, one of the worst in Bombers' history and the first shutout Winnipeg fans have had to endure since 1969, came without the fall guy LaPo had become.

By firing LaPolice, Mack stepped into the spotlight and was revealed. Sunday was the first look at the GM's handiwork without the benefit of a scapegoat and it wasn't pretty.

Mack made a mistake in the timing of his firing of LaPolice. By clipping the coach with over half a season left to judge this club, Mack has exposed himself. If things continue to go bad for the Bombers the board will have at the GM for answers.

Had Mack waited a few more games before letting LaPolice go, he could have argued the rest of the season was a write-off and a chance for interim head coach Tim Burke to get his feet under him. Nine more games of this, however, will leave Mack roasting on a spit of his own making.

Burke gets a freebie from this perspective. He's stepped into an impossible situation and done it with the intent to get the Bombers back on the winning track. Too bad he doesn't have the players because he just might be a good head coach.

This sample size won't be enough, unlike the near three-year snapshot we now have of Mack, to judge Burke.

The question we may be asking in the offseason is who comes next.

The bigger and scarier question for Bombers fans is who makes that call.

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2012 D1

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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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