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Joe Mack won’t be sacked—yet

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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Judging Joe Mack on a whole season's fine, but he didn't extend that courtesy to Paul LaPolice.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' decision to say general manager Joe Mack's job is safe for now is notable from a couple of perspectives. On one hand, it's unusual and perhaps even laudatory for the team to announce publicly that they're taking a long-term view of Mack's performance, rather than undertaking a knee-jerk firing thanks to notable public pressure in the wake of their debacle of a 52-0 loss to Saskatchewan Sunday. Making a massive decision like whether to keep the general manager isn't something that should be rushed into, and it's certainly not a decision that should be made on the basis of a single game, no matter how bad that game was. However, the Bombers' loss Sunday reflected problems that have plagued them not just all season, but throughout Mack's three-year stint as general manager, so the calls for his head aren't solely based on this loss alone. Moreover, it's extremely interesting that Mack is keeping his job and being judged on how he performs over the entire year, but he didn't apply that same logic to former head coach Paul LaPolice, firing him after eight games and watching the team go from improvement to a tailspin in the process.

If you go through the Bombers' issues one by one, it's clear a lot of them can be laid at the feet of Mack. The interior offensive line's issues protecting their quarterbacks (Winnipeg had allowed a league-high 23 sacks heading into this past weekend's action) and establishing the ground game? Why, that would be thanks to Mack's failure to bring back star guard Brendon LaBatte (which LaBatte told former Bomber Doug Brown was not just about money or his desire to return to Saskatchewan, but also the team's attempts to force him to play an uncomfortable position at centre), his decision to push veteran centre Obby Khan out and his inability to draft, sign or develop capable replacements. The lack of solid running back depth behind the injured Chris Garrett? Yep, that's on Mack, who cut veteran Fred Reid this offseason (to criticism from his own players) and failed to acquire any of the other proven running backs out there in lesser roles after it became clear that Chad Simpson wasn't able to produce consistently. Cory Boyd? Avon Cobourne? Even Joffrey Reynolds? The Bombers haven't made a play for any running back help, odd considering how much of a need that's been.

Those aren't the team's only problems, either. The offence that couldn't produce 100 passing yards, 50 rushing yards or a single point against Saskatchewan? Also on Mack, who fired a proven CFL offensive mind in LaPolice, turning things over to a coach with a defence-only background (Tim Burke) and an offensive coordinator in his first year in the CFL (Gary Crowton). The lack of a pass rush to threaten opposing quarterbacks? Hmm, I wonder if that has anything to do with trading the CFL's sack leader for a hill of magic beans? Those beans haven't yet sprouted, and that might have something to do with planting them in poor conditions; Mack packaged the eighth-overall pick obtained in that trade together with the 13th-overall pick to move up to third overall, but instead of grabbing one of the players who's already made a CFL impact (sixth-overall pick Shamawd Chambers? 11th-overall pick Patrick Lavoie? 12th-overall pick Sam Hurl?), he took a huge risk, going with an offensive lineman (Tyson Pencer) with very little high-level experience. So far, Pencer's only made it to the nine-game injured list. The other pick obtained in the Willis trade was used to take linebacker Rene Stephan 24th overall, and he's also on the nine-game injured list. Who knows what those players will turn into eventually, but the lack of giant beanstalks so far suggests that the beans Mack obtained may not be all that magical.

None of that necessarily means Mack should be fired right now. After all, he did put together a team that made it to the Grey Cup last year, and he deserves some credit for that (even if he blew it up afterwards). It's also difficult to fully evaluate coaches or general managers midway through a season; some were calling for Wally Buono's head after the B.C. Lions' 0-5 start last season, and they went on to win the Grey Cup. The Bombers don't seem likely to repeat the Lions' turnaround, though; they're getting blown out, not coming up just short in close games, and their league-worst totals of 176 points for (19.6 points per game) and 296 points against (32.9 per game) don't suggest that better things are on the horizon. Thus, it's tough to imagine that the team will keep him after this year. Still, on principle, waiting to see how Mack's moves turn out over a whole season isn't a terrible approach. It just would be easier to defend if he'd extended the same courtesy to his head coach.

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