When Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Joe Mack addressed the media following his decision to fire head coach Paul LaPolice, he said there were basically two reasons why he was making the decision. The first was that LaPolice was hired to fix the offense and that had not happened, and secondly, that the GM was tired of the undisciplined penalties.
Now, there are always two sides to every story and you can easily make an argument that supports the two reasons, or refutes them. For example, when it comes to the offense, I don't think anyone would argue that it wasn't that side of the ball that got them to the Grey Cup last year. This season, the Bombers' offense has ranked dead last in points scored per game and at the bottom of the pack in net offense per game most of the year.
However, you could also suggest that in order to have the best offense in the league you have to have one of the best quarterbacks in the league. And if you don't think that even when Buck Pierce is healthy the Bombers' stable of quarterbacks rank among the league leaders, than you have to ask: who is responsible for that - the coach or the person in charge of finding the quarterbacks?
When it comes to discipline, again it is easy to make the argument that this team took way too many bad penalties. For proof, all you have to do is look at the most recent BC Lions game where they took 19 penalties; two of which were avoidable late hits and two were for objectionable conduct. However, the counter argument is that every player can make a mistake but character players won't continually repeat them. If a player is genuinely unselfish and always has the team-first mentality, than there is very little chance that he will become a repeat offender when it comes to selfish, after the whistle penalties. So again the question could be asked; is it the coach's responsibility to fix a selfish player or the GM's responsibility to bring in character players that will always put the team first?
While you may lean one way or the other on any of those arguments and explanations, there was something else said in Joe Mack's press conference that was more disturbing.
Mack said that this was not a snap judgment and after discussing the two aforementioned reasons for his decision, paused almost to reflect and said "when I broke down the film and talent level, I saw players playing extremely hard, with a lot of heart. I talked to them repeatedly and asked them; do you think your fellow teammates care? They always said yes, yet we were not producing results that would equate to what I was seeing on the field and what the players were saying and that gave me great pause."
Winnipeg Free Press reporter Paul Wiecek on Sunday also quoted "unnamed sources that indicated that Mack had been querying players directly and had been advised almost without exception, that LaPolice had lost the room."
All of which is likely why, whether you like this decision or not, you can't figure out why there is such a bad smell hanging over it.
First it seems like a bit of a contradiction to suggest that players are not responding to the head coaches message and then turn around and say, "when I watched film I saw players playing extremely hard, with a lot of heart." Isn't playing with a lack of heart and effort the sign that a coach has lost the room?
What is more disturbing is what we don't know, and may never know, about what the players were actually saying about their head coach when Joe Mack "talked to them repeatedly."
If what was reported in the Free Press is true, and players under the umbrella of anonymity where throwing their head coach under the bus, well then you have found the source of that smell.
Any player, if asked from anyone in management to assess the performance of the head coach and talk about whether or not he was respected in the room, should have had only one answer and it is a fairly easy one. It should have sounded something like this: It is not my role as a player to assess the job of the head coach. I'm here to play ball and if we are struggling than I should look in the mirror and find ways that I can do my job better, so as to help our team get out of this slump.
If said player wanted to add anything to that simple answer he could just say; I would like to thank that same head coach that you're asking me about for not only giving me an opportunity to play professional football but also for leading us to a Grey Cup Championship game last year. If there were Bomber players that were asked about the teams problems by management and pointed fingers at the head coach than shame on those players. They should all be careful what they wish for because the field turf may not be greener on the other side.
Apparently the first practice for Tim Burke, who replaces Lapolice, was more like a military boot camp with lots of running and lots of yelling than a practice in Week 9 of a football season. Again, we may never know what was actually said and which players, if any, were involved but if players were walking all over their former head coach and then letting management know that they didn't respect him, it looks like their new head coach is about to put his foot down hard and do a little walking of his own. The fall guy is gone and so are the excuses. The rest of this season is on the Bombers players.