Taking a last-place football team to within one win of a Grey Cup championship has it rewards. Just ask Paul LaPolice.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach was given a two-year contract extension Tuesday as a payoff for overseeing a most remarkable turnaround. In 2010, his first CFL season in Winnipeg, LaPolice suffered through a 4-14 record fraught with close losses. Last season, the Blue Bombers won 10 of 18 regular-season games, then claimed the East Division title.
They were eventually beaten 34-23 in the Grey Cup by the B.C. Lions. But LaPolice said Tuesday, he's "confident that we are a team on the rise and look forward to continued success."
Joe Mack, Winnipeg's vice-president of football operations and general manager, said there was always an understanding he and LaPolice would be able negotiate a deal.
"We had a certain amount of upheaval on the coaching staff. We made a change with the offensive co-ordinator. [Defensive co-ordinator]Tim Burke was talking with Hamilton," Mack said. "Paul and I focused on the staff. … We have a good relationship. I told him we'd get it done."
The Blue Bombers look to be contenders again in 2012. During the off-season, the team resigned several key veterans (quarterbacks Buck Pierce, Alex Brink, Joey Elliott, offensive lineman Steven Morley, Glenn January). That helped off-set the loss of free-agent receiver Greg Carr (to the Edmonton Eskimos) and offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte (to the Saskatchewan Roughriders).
"Getting the three quarterbacks resigned was critical," Mack said. "I feel pretty good about where we are."
Backed by one of the CFL's best defensive units, the Blue Bombers are keen to enhance their "Swaggerville" reputation by moving into their $190-million, 33,500-seat stadium this summer. It is expected that Investors Group Field, which will also be home to the University of Manitoba Bisons, will play host its first CFL game on July 26.
The Blue Bombers will play their first four games this season on the road, beginning June 29, with a 2011 Grey Cup rematch against the Lions.
Meanwhile, the Calgary Stampeders announced a contract extension Tuesday with import running back LaMarcus Coker. He averaged 9.8 yards per carry last season, scoring a 75-yard touchdown run on his first CFL carry.
Coker and non-import Jon Cornish – who signed a contract extension earlier this year – will be the feature backs now that veteran Joffrey Reynolds has been released.