Blue Bombers handle departures of Joe Mack and Garth Buchko in curious fashion
A day after word leaked that Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Garth Buchko had recommended the firing of general manager Joe Mack to the team's board, the CFL team made Mack's axing official with a news release and a news conference Friday. Surprisingly, though, Buchko also resigned. They'll be replaced for the moment by interim GM Kyle Walters and interim CEO Wade Miller. While these moves may appease some fans and may work out in the long term, the way they were handled doesn't say anything good about the Bombers' organization.
Mack's firing is a move that many Bomber fans have long awaited. His subpar record (since he took over in 2010, they have a 21-39 regular-season record, and even their 2011 Grey Cup appearance owed a lot to postseason luck), poor draft history, willingness to let top players leave for little or nothing and lack of notable talent acquisitions has created substantial push for his firing over the last few years. "Fire Joe Mack" has become a popular slogan at games and on social media, so Friday's announcement please plenty of fans. However, the timing of the Mack move and the way it played out doesn't look good on the organization.
The way this firing went down in particular is concerning. The news that Buchko had recommended the board fire Mack was reported Thursday by Gary Lawless of The Winnipeg Free Press, and that shouldn't happen. Lawless deserves substantial credit for getting and publishing that scoop, of course, but if Buchko and the board members were doing their job properly, there's no way he should have been able to find that out. A move as sensitive as the firing of a general manager should have only been discussed amongst Buchko and the board, so someone there leaked it in some way, shape or form. There's no good motivation for any of them to leak it (other than ingratiating themselves to a particular journalist, but that shouldn't be high on a board member's priority list), as all that does is make the organization look inept. Leaking that the CEO has asked to fire the GM before it actually happens is not only classless, but also makes the team's top brass appear unable to execute decisions quickly and discreetly.
Winnipeg's timing here is also interesting. The team's 1-4 record certainly leaves a lot to be desired, and if they don't think Mack's the GM to lead them forward, it's better to make a change sooner rather than later. However, a mid-year change means they'll likely wait until season's end to hire a full replacement. That puts Walters in a difficult position. He may want a crack at the full-time job, but to get that, he may have to pursue short-term solutions to help the team improve this year rather than thinking for the long term. Moreover, if they wind up hiring someone else, much of the roster will then have to be remade yet again to conform to his vision. That's not simple to do.
The departure of Buchko is the really curious part here. Yes, he's deservedly taken some flack for the stadium delays last year and for retaining Mack, but it's unusual to see a CEO leave after just a year and a half. His exit at the same time as Mack's leaves the team without much leadership at the top, and Miller will have to learn on the fly. It's unclear if Buchko quit of his own volition or was forced out, but either isn't great at the same time as a GM's departure. The Bombers have gotten rid of two oft-criticized figures, but they've done so at an odd time and in an odd way. While these moves may pan out in the long term, the immediate future doesn't look smooth for Winnipeg.