Chad Simpson knows the one way to stop more heads from rolling is for the floundering Blue Bombers to win a football game.
Stuck in a four-game losing streak and sitting at the bottom of the CFL East Division with a 1-5 record, the running back and his teammates host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2-4) on Friday after a week of changes that came swift and furious.
President and chief executive officer Garth Buchko and general manager Joe Mack were fired last Friday, followed by a switch at starting quarterback, the signing of a new kicker and the hiring of an offensive consultant.
“The changes were made for the better of the team and that helps get rid of a degree of worry right there,” Simpson said after practice Thursday.
“But it’s very important that we start winning now. The more we lose, then the more people go and we don’t want to have that.”
Keeping track of all the upheaval almost requires a flow chart.
Former Bombers fullback Wade Miller replaced Buchko as acting CEO and promptly fired Mack, bumping assistant GM Kyle Walters into Mack’s spot on an acting basis.
Out on the field, head coach Tim Burke went with his offensive staff’s decision to use their third starting quarterback this season, handing the reins to CFL rookie Max Hall for the Hamilton game in place of Justin Goltz. However, Goltz drops to No. 3 on the depth chart and veteran ex-starter Buck Pierce is Hall’s backup.
Former Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille was then hired to be a consultant for the offence on Monday and the club signed veteran kicker Sandro DeAngelis on Tuesday. He’ll replace place-kicker Justin Palardy against the Ticats.
“Here’s what I said to [the players] early in the week,” said Burke.
“I said, ‘Well, why do you think the CEO and the GM got let go?’ And the answer was, ‘Because we’re not winning enough games.’ I said, ‘That’s exactly right so let’s get it going.“’
Burke admitted he didn’t get much sleep early in the week and that it was “one of the more stressful” weeks in his life, but he’s more positive after some good practices and senses more urgency in his players.
Hamilton defeated the visiting Bombers 25-20 on July 13 in a game in which Ticats quarterback Henry Burris was sacked seven times.
Burris said he’s focused on Winnipeg’s defence — which he views as having the best front four in the league — and hasn’t paid attention to the chaos the Bombers went through.
After all, at 2-4 his team isn’t invincible to change.
“We’re only one win up on this team so we’re not far away from whatever’s going on. Our stuff stinks, too,” Burris said.
“We’ve got to start winning games and doing it consistently. That’s where our focus is ‘cause if we don’t do it, you’ll see us in the paper the same way.”
Winnipeg’s defence leads the CFL in sacks (24), but has allowed 9.1 yards per pass. Burris pointed out it’s on the field a lot so that could be a factor.
Hamilton tops the league with 1,842 yards passing (all but 39 of those yards from Burris) and the pivot is welcoming back slotback Andy Fantuz, who’s missed the past five games with a hamstring injury.
“It’s been a frustrating few weeks,” Fantuz said.
Then he grinned and added his teammates noticed his return.
“Even on the plane today, everyone’s asking me for ID and wondering who I am and stuff.”
Hall takes over a Winnipeg offence ranked fifth overall in scoring (22.5 points per game), but second-last in total yards (285.2) and passing (220.2).
He said he’s excited to try to lead the Bombers to their first win at new Investors Group Field, even though his last start was in 2010 with the NFL Arizona Cardinals.
Hall got into six games for the Cardinals and started three, winning only his first start. But that was “a good one,” he pointed out, as the victory was 30-20 over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
He was later injured and only played in some preseason games the following season. Last year, he was a grad assistant and helped out his alma mater Brigham Young’s football team.
“I’m a little bit nervous, to be honest with you, as I should be, but I really feel confident and I’m more excited to get out there and play and to show what I’m capable of,” Hall said.
Hamilton’s defence could be ripe for the picking as it’s allowed a league-high 31.2 points and 135.2 yards rushing per game.
Veteran Bombers receiver Terrence Edwards calculated it was his fourth year with three quarterbacks playing in the same season.
“It’s not hard anymore adjusting to quarterbacks because all I have to do is go out there and do my job and do my job well,” he said.
Despite the turmoil swirling around the team, he’s looking forward to Friday’s challenge.
“I think we’ve got a new-found attitude going into this week,” Edwards said. “We understand our jobs are on the line and everyone’s got to go out and perform.”
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