What the heck is wrong with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?
That’s a question that fans across the province must have been asking themselves as they watched the Bombers get blown out 52-0 by the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Labour Day weekend Regina.
One of the most glaring issues that directly led to that particular display of football futility was a questionable management decision made by current GM Joe Mack, exactly one week earlier.
It was Mack who made the decision to fire former head coach Paul LaPolice the morning after the team had lost to the defending Grey Cup Champion BC Lions on a last-second field goal. Citing a lack of offensive progression and undisciplined play as major factors behind the decision, defensive coordinator Tim Burke was chosen to replace LaPolice – the man who took the Bombers from dead last in the East in 2010, through a wild and emotional 2011 regular season that culminated with a berth in the Grey Cup.
It was also Mack who signed LaPolice to a two-year extension as head coach this past offseason. With his dismissal, LaPolice will remain on the Bomber payroll through 2013 unless he finds work elsewhere in the league.
This sudden coaching change left Burke in an incredibly difficult position, with only six days to prepare for his first appearance as a coach on the sidelines since his days with Ball State in the 1990s.
The team that lost on Labour Day Sunday was a far cry from the team that went punch-for-punch with BC a week earlier. Blame the shoddy performance on the windy conditions, poor play execution or whatever you like; I’ll simply restate that Mack’s reasoning for firing LaPolice was a lack of offensive progression and undisciplined play.
Against Saskatchewan, the Bomber offence had a total offensive yardage of 106 yards and zero points, while racking up 101 yards in penalties and turning the ball over five times.
Unless Mack was fully expecting a complete collapse before the miraculous season turnaround begins, it seems clear that everything about the dismissal of Paul LaPolice—the timing, the optics, and the motivation—was a complete misjudgment.
Bomber fans are deservedly furious after the game, with many now calling for Mack to be fired.
I’m not one to advocate for anyone to lose their job, and it wouldn’t matter since the club has announced that Mack will remain the GM for the foreseeable future.
What I’m most concerned about is just what the heck is going on down at the Bombers head office. The on-field product is one subject the local media seems to relish dissecting, but it’s the policy changes and treatment of season ticket holders that really shocked me the most this season.
In previous years, season ticket holders usually received a small package of goodies from the club – nothing spectacular, usually just a collectable pin and/or a lanyard to hold your ticket on game day.
This year, the only thing that came with the season ticket packages was a letter, outlining the new list of prohibited items that included for the first time unopened water bottles, cowbells, any type of flag pole, outside food and umbrellas.
The Bombers were pressured by the public to backtrack on several of the items, but surprisingly have not backed down from the flagpole ban. Previously, only flags attached to periscopic poles (such as a golf ball retriever) were allowed. In 2012, they were unceremoniously banned in the name of “fan safety.”
The main reason why the flagpole issue won’t get much attention compared to the cowbell or water ban is because of one simple fact; most fans do not bring a flag to the game. Flags are a relatively rare sight in the stands, and the few dozen or so fans that regularly brought them to games mainly did so as a sign of loyalty and respect to the club. It’s kind of sad when the only opportunity flag-bearing fans will get to carry the colours into a Bomber game is during a trip to a rival stadium. The Bombers join the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes as the only teams who currently ban all types of flagpoles.
From moronic game day policies, that treat loyal customers like children, to mishandling the new stadium construction projections, and updates during the offseason, there seems to be a growing disconnect between the fans and the folks at the helm of the club.
Let me take a moment to say that there are plenty of wonderful people working for the Bombers who only have the fan’s best interests in mind. But at the same time, it’s pretty clear that there are some at the very top of the organization who are completely out of touch with the common Winnipeg sports fan.
In what will likely go down as yet another forgettable Blue Bomber season, the only positive thing commentators around the league have spoke about is the unwavering boisterous support of the fans.
But if the Bombers don’t make the appropriate adjustments from the top down, they might embitter an entire generation of fans who have endured so much—on and off the field—over the past two decades.