Bombers’ CEO Garth Buchko recommends their board fire general manager Joe Mack
It looks like many fans of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers may finally get their wish: the firing of general manager Joe Mack. Mack's time in charge of the team since 2010 has included one run to the Grey Cup game in 2011, but the Bombers are 21-39 overall under his reign, and large numbers of fans have been lobbying for his exit for some time. It sounds like Bombers' CEO Garth Buchko, who took that role in January 2012, has decided to join that cause. According to Gary Lawless of The Winnipeg Free Press, Buchko has officially recommended to the organization's board that they fire Mack:
Blue Bombers CEO Garth Buchko has made a recommendation to the team’s board of directors to fire GM Joe Mack.
A member of the board told the Free Press today that the board is scheduled to meet next Tuesday but that an emergency meeting could be convened in the interim.
...It’s expected the Bombers will promote assistant GM Kyle Walters on an interim basis if the board approves Buchko’s recommendation.
Mack was retained by Buchko at the end of last season but on the same day a vote of confidence was handed out, so too was a new mandate.
"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 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."
Leaving aside the ineptitude involved in a board member leaking something like this to the press before a decision's made, firing Mack would certainly make many Bombers' fans happy, as there have been long-running campaigns to get rid of him. A "Fire Joe Mack" Facebook page had 4,220 likes as of Thursday afternoon, and the @firejoemack Twitter feed had 590 followers. Those are just the fervent supporters, too; it's always interesting to see how many people are using #FireJoeMack hashtag during Winnipeg games. It seems those movements have finally made impressions on the front office. Buchko and the board have supported Mack previously, even going as far as to give him a vote of confidence after last year's 52-0 drubbing from Saskatchewan, a beatdown that came immediately after Mack fired popular coach Paul LaPolice. They seem to have changed their tune now, though. The question is if getting rid of Mack is the right move for the franchise, or if this is just bowing to public pressure.
To get at the answer to that, it's important to examine why so many want Mack fired. Yes, his overall record isn't great, but many executives have gone through rough patches without losing their jobs. A Mack-built roster did get to a Grey Cup in one of the three full seasons he's had thus far, which is far better than many top executives can say: Winnipeg's been to the Grey Cup more recently than Saskatchewan, Montreal, Edmonton and Hamilton and as recently as B.C., and of the CFL's eight teams, only the Eskimos and Tiger-Cats have changed general managers since 2011 (although the Roughriders had an awkward front-office structure during that season). A significant portion of the criticism of Mack comes from much more than just the team's on-field struggles during 2012 and now during 2013, though, and that's why firing Mack might be the right move for the Bombers' future, not just a knee-jerk reaction to a slow start like the LaPolice firing.
A general manager's key role is to acquire talent, and while Mack has a strong background in NFL and CFL front offices (he has a 1984 Grey Cup ring from his time as director of player personnel for the Bombers and a 1992 Super Bowl ring from his time with Washington), his record on that front in Winnipeg is very questionable. Yes, he made the right move by hanging on to much of the Bombers' talent after their dismal 4-12 2010 season rather than purging the roster, but he failed to bring in much help for them, and that team's run to the Grey Cup was a rather fluky one aided by the Tiger-Cats' upset of the powerhouse Alouettes and subsequent implosion in the Winnipeg cold. It's Mack's moves after that which have been even worse, though. He pushed all-star guard Brendon LaBatte into leaving for Saskatchewan by telling him the Bombers would only use him at centre and axed immensely popular veteran centre Obby Khan (who wound up impressing for Calgary last season), creating holes on the line that they still haven't really filled and making life difficult for the Bombers' quarterbacks.
Those quarterbacks are also an indictment of Mack: he put too much reliance on the oft-injured (and never spectacular even when healthy) Buck Pierce, brought in two guys in Alex Brink and Joey Elliott that he liked for a while but cast off before this year, and forced the team to enter this year with two relatively green guys behind Pierce. That's shown: Justin Goltz did decently in his first CFL start, but really struggled against B.C. this past week, and Max Hall's still learning the Canadian game. The Bombers don't have a great quarterback option at the moment, and it's quite possible none of the guys they currently have will ever turn into one. Beyond that, Mack has depleted the Bombers' defensive talent substantially during his tenure: he traded Odell Willis for next to nothing, jettisoned Joe Lobendahn too quickly and cut Jonathan Hefney over a minor disciplinary issue. He's barely signed any CFL free agents, hasn't found a lot of great American players and has struggled to find many impact players through the Canadian draft.
The Bombers' roster looks a lot worse now than it did at the start of Mack's tenure, and that's the real problem here, not the team's struggles in the win and loss column. (Mack's decision to promote the Gary Cherone-esque Tim Burke to full-time head coach while retaining CFL newbie Gary Crowton as offensive coordinator is also quite questionable, though, and that call's arguably a substantial part of the Bombers' struggles this season.) We'll see if the Bombers' board agrees with Buchko's recommendation or not, but there are plenty of reasons to fire Mack, and they go beyond just the ever-increasing fan pressure.