The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are giving their current general manager and head coach the chance to turn the CFL team’s fortunes around.
The Bombers announced Thursday that they are sticking with general manager Joe Mack and are removing the interim tag from head coach Tim Burke’s title.
Team president Garth Buchko says Winnipeg’s 5-12 record going into Saturday’s season finale against Montreal isn’t acceptable. But he says it looks like they have the building blocks in place for success.
“What ultimately sealed my decision was that I am just not ready to dismantle this organization and start over from scratch,” he said. “In business as in sports, success comes when you have stability in the leadership position.
“Joe Mack, Tim Burke have the respect and confidence of their players and staff.”
Burke is the fifth head coach since 2005 to lead the Bombers. Paul LaPolice, who started this season after leading them to the Grey Cup last year, lost his job when they managed just two wins in their first eight games.
Mack was already under contract next year but there has been mounting fan anger over some of his moves. The Bombers dressed 19 rookies this season and many fans complained veterans were released without a solid plan to replace them.
Disgruntled fans started a “sack Joe Mack” move online.
But Buchko and Mack point out that some of those rookies are top performers — like leading receiver Chris Matthews and tailback Chad Simpson, both topping the 1,000-yard mark.
“Joe and Tim have the liberty and the plan to make changes where they see fit for football operations but the expectation is to win football games and be a playoff team,” said Buchko.
All agree that for that to happen, they must tackle the big question of quarterback.
Burke and Mack like Buck Pierce, but he missed more than half the season with injuries after missing most of the 2010 campaign for the same reason.
Last year was his best as a Bomber when he started 16 games.
Mack says they have to sit down with Pierce and their medical people and talk about his future.
“The elephant in the room is the quarterback situation,” said Burke.
“We want to make sure we get that resolved so we have the best chance of moving forward and having a chance to be in the Grey Cup every year.
“It’s not enough for us to be an up-and-down team year in, year out. We want to consistently be a championship-calibre team.”
Backup Alex Brink will start Saturday against Montreal.
Burke first joined the team last year as defensive co-ordinator and defensive backs coach. He has also worked on coaching staffs with the Montreal Alouettes and Calgary Stampeders.
The news that Mack and Buchko will stay was greeted with some relief in the Bombers’ locker-room.
Veteran offensive lineman Glenn January said he likes Burke’s style.
“He’s a straight shooter, if he’s mad at you he tells you,” he said.
Veteran receiver Terrence Edwards added the club has the talent to win.
“Firing somebody’s not always the answer,” he said. “We understand fans are very passionate about this team and this club ... I’ve been here six years and have had four different head coaches already ...”
“We’ve got the right people here to do good things. We’ve just got to not be so quick to fire people.”
The team announcement overshadowed a ceremony earlier Thursday for this year’s Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductees.
Their busts were officially unveiled and quarterback Damon Allen spoke on behalf of the group when he said they were all touched by the event.
“We’re honoured, we’re a proud bunch,” he said, adding none likely ever thought they would receive such an honour.
“We only wanted to win championships.”
The other former players were receiver Milt Stegall, offensive lineman and placekicker Jack Abendschan, running back Eric Lapointe and the late linebacker Tyrone Jones.
Jones died in 2008 and also played some of his best years with the Bombers, including two Grey Cup wins in 1984 and 1990. His son was on hand to accept the honour.
The builders are B.C. Lions owner David Braley and former University of Calgary coach Peter Connellan.
Stegall, who played 14 seasons with the Bombers and is now a broadcaster, threw his support behind a little consistency for his former team.
“Sooner or later you have to say, ‘Let’s stand pat and see what we have here.’ You can’t continue making changes ... I think it’s a good move.”