There are so many problems with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' decision to fire head coach Paul LaPolice that it's tough to know where to start. The team's blamed the wrong scapegoat for their woes, which is troubling enough, but they've done so at a terrible time and with reasoning that's suspect at best. It's possible the team could still turn their season around, but if they do, it will likely be in spite of this move rather than because of it, and it's certainly possible that this will send the franchise even further off the rails.
The chief problem with this Winnipeg team is roster construction, and that's not LaPolice's department. In fact, most of the on-field issues the Bombers have been having can be laid at the feet of general manager Joe Mack. Mack's the one who not only sat there this offseason and watched a Grey Cup finalist roster self-destruct, but also threw in some dynamite to make the explosion even bigger. The key problem with the Bombers' offence all season has been the offensive line, and that's directly Mack's fault; he was unable to keep star guard Brendon LaBatte, which is perhaps a defensible decision and could be described as passive negligence at worst, but also lost key figures like Greg Carr and deliberately drove veteran centre Obby Khan out of town. That's directly led to many of Winnipeg's offensive line issues, as Paul Kowalczuk and Justin Sorensen have struggled to fill Khan's shoes, not only as a blocker but as a leader on the line.
It's tough to blame Paul LaPolice for Joe Mack's failure to build a solid roster.That's far from Mack's only off-season failing, either. He traded 2011 league sack co-leader Odell Willis for a hill of magic beans while mumbling something vague about team chemistry; that chemistry must be working out great, as the team's now 2-6. Mack also presided over a less-than-stellar draft, including the selection of extremely-raw offensive line prospect Tyson Pencer third overall. Granted, it can take CFL prospects a while to develop, but many players taken later than that have already turned into solid contributors, including Edmonton receiver Shamawd Chambers, Montreal fullback Patrick Lavoie and Saskatchewan linebacker Sam Hurl). Mack also did so little in free agency that he was blasted by his players. As Adam Wazny wrote earlier this month, too, concerns about Mack aren't just about what he's done this year; since his hiring in 2010, he's failed to acquire a single player who was named to even a divisional all-star team, much less a league one. It's very difficult to blame LaPolice for failing to whip up a gourmet meal when Mack's left the cupboard so bare, and when a few of the key players who were left (like quarterback Buck Pierce and running back Chris Garrett) got hurt early on.
It's not just about firing LaPolice and not Mack, though, as the timing and rationale here are also issues. Yes, if the Bombers had struggled all season and seemed to be tuning LaPolice out, then you might want to change coaches (despite LaPolice's proven ability; after all, he did take his team to the Grey Cup game last season and was nominated for the league's Coach of the Year award). However, this team looked better in Friday night's loss to B.C. than they had in weeks; the view from here is that Mack would have been a better person to fire, but it's unclear that a firing was even necessary at this point. Yes, the Bombers lost, but intelligent teams don't make knee-jerk reactions in the wake of a narrow loss against the league's best team, one which suggests your team might be starting to make some progress despite its obvious roster flaws. It's also worth noting that a 2-6 record after eight games is concerning, but not critical, especially given the macro-level parity we've seen this year; this season was anything but lost, and a smart team would have given LaPolice more time to see if he could have built on Friday's progress. The Bombers are demonstrating that they're anything but smart, though, and firing the wrong guy at the wrong time for the wrong reason won't help their case.