Joe Mack press conference

- August 26th, 2012

I won’t be making a habit of this, but here is the full transcript from GM Joe Mack’s press conference on Saturday about the firing of Paul LaPolice.

JOE MACK: The first thing I would like to say is obviously everyone knows we had to make a difficult decision today. The decision was made by me, with the support of Garth Buchko and our board, to relieve Paul LaPolice of his duties as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I would like to say personally it was done with a great deal of regret and sadness. I’d like to make a strong point of emphasizing what a quality person I think Paul is, how much I and the club appreciate his hard work, his dedication and the strong character he showed in the time he was here. Unfortunately we are a results-driven business, and we haven’t been able to produce for approximately the past year now. And even though we did play a strong game last night, the overall feeling was that we weren’t necessarily going in the right direction and that this was the appropriate time to make a change. I feel strongly that Tim Burke, our interim head coach, is also a strong worker, a man with strong character, very, very well-respected within the locker-room, and I think he has a good chance to change the tide for us and hopefully make a drive to the playoffs.

Q: Joe, there’s going to be a lot of people saying that your fingerprints are all over this 2-6 record at least as much as Paul’s. Have you given any thought to resigning yourself.
A: No, none whatsoever.

Q: You don’t feel you bear any responsibility?
A: Of course I bear responsibility, but when I do the evaluation, with all due respect to everybody, I see a fair amount of talent out there that’s playing hard, and that’s all that a general manager can do for a coaching staff. And ultimately, as everyone in this business knows, the head coach will ultimately be held responsible for the product on the field. It does start with me, but I feel that we weren’t making the necessary strides and in fact were possibly going backwards, particularly after having gone to a Grey Cup. I was a little bit surprised and disappointed that we seemed to have regressed this year, and at times I didn’t feel we were playing up to our full potential.

Q: Some people would just question the loss of some key veterans in the off-season. That could impact it.
A: Yeah, but that’s always going to happen in pro sports, particularly pro football. There’s going to be turnover in every team, every year. So if you look throughout the league, there’s new quarterbacks all over the place, there’s new running backs all over the place. So as an organization and as a staff, you just have to adjust to that. So I think it’s naive for anybody to think that there’s not going to be turnover. It happens all the time, and you just have to find a way to maximize the talent that you have available. That’s going to happen all the time. Would it have some effect? Sure, but I don’t necessarily think it would have had the effect to what our record indicates and the way we’ve produced overall.

Q: Would it be fair to say the evaluation of the board maybe shifts to you and your work at this stage?
A: Yeah, I’m fine with that. That comes with the territory. Our board is very thoughtful, very professional, very intelligent, and I have every confidence that they’ll be very prudent and diligent in their evaluations. I think that they would listen … from the discussions we make and the decisions we make, and they’ll make a decision off of that. I was speaking to Garth and Bill Watchorn today, and I think probably one of the tougher things to try to decipher is who exactly is going to be a good head coach in a given situation. I’m a little bit of a history buff, and an infinitely more intelligent person than me, Abraham Lincoln, during the American Civil War, went through seven field generals until he got to Ulysses S. Grant. The reason I mention that is it just goes to show you really don’t know what somebody’s going to be able to function like as a leader until they’re actually in that situation. Paul has a lot of great qualities. He is a very hard worker, he’s dedicated, he cares. It was just in this situation I didn’t feel that we were making progress to getting to where we wanted to be, which was consistently be competing for a Grey Cup. And unfortunately, after being with the club on a day-to-day basis with the players, with the coaches, watching us in practice and in games, I didn’t see us making the kind of strides forward that I wanted us to see. So as difficult as it was, now was probably the most unfortunate time, but the necessary time to make the change.

Q: Was it teaching, was it game management, was it intensity? What do you see missing?
A: “I was very disappointed … when I first interviewed Paul and then hired him, I was explicit that I felt Winnipeg had not had a good offence for an extended period of time and that one of the main reasons he was getting hired was to revamp and reconstitute the offence. And I didn’t really feel that that had been accomplished. The other issue that I have addressed a number of times is too often we were leading the league in penalties. Although obviously the players have to hold some responsibility to that, the head coach ultimately is going to be responsible for the number of penalties a team takes. At some point he has to institute some discipline to make sure that doesn’t happen. And unfortunately, we continued to be at the top of that statistic that you just can’t do consistently and win Grey Cups. So it was those types of things: the fact we couldn’t get our offence off and running and also when I broke down the film and the talent level, I saw our players playing extremely hard, with a lot of heart. I talked to them repeatedly and I asked them repeatedly: ‘Do you think your fellow teammates care?’ They always said yes. Yet we’re 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.

Q: Was anything short of a win last night, was there anything Paul could have done to have saved his job?
A: This was not a snap judgment. This is something that has been kind of building over the season. In fairness to Paul, we did have somewhat of a challenge in that we played a number of games on the road. I’d like to make note of that. But I didn’t feel that we were making strides forward. There were times I just really didn’t feel we were focused. And just the overall vibe of our team, although I thought we had intensity and some hard-working guys, I didn’t think we had a general sense of moving forward, of getting better. I just didn’t see that. So when I put all those factors into play throughout this entire season, I had severe reservations obviously that that was going to change, so I thought now was the time to make the change.

Q: The reason I asked about last night was there were a series of very undisciplined penalties, and you referenced some of that earlier in your description of when you were talking about Paul. Was that the last straw? Did he own that as far as you were concerned last night?
A: The penalties concerned me, and probably because I had seen them so many times. At some point, it’s just a fact, and maybe it’s not fair — but I guess life isn’t — but at some point a head coach has to be able to communicate to his players that you can’t do this continuously. You just can’t do it, and we never seemed to be able to get over the hump of reducing our overall penalty load. So sure, that concerned me. Some of them were very close calls, if you will, in fairness to the team, but leadership at some point has to be able to push you over the end line. That’s just the nature of pro football, and we didn’t get there, and I was concerned that we weren’t going to be able to get there.

Q: Joe, you talked about the team moving backwards, but in the last four games the team’s 2-2, it seemed to be moving in the right direction, could possibly have won last night’s game, and you’re sort of indicating that even if the Bombers had won last night’s game you were still going to make this move.
A: No, that’s not exactly true. There were some things that I had discussed with Paul that had concerned me. The fact that we were 6-14 over the last year concerned me, and I was hoping going into the season that we would see a change. When I took the entirety of where we were and where I think we are now, I was hoping for Paul’s sake, to be honest with you, that there could be a momentum change. I was hoping that being cognizant of the fact we were on the road for four games in a row, I wanted to give Paul and the team a chance to kind of turn that around. There were just a number of things that I sensed within the club that I just didn’t sense that happening. Again, I just had reservations that it was going to happen in this instance. There was a preponderance of things in the overall mix happening that I felt that we had to make the change.

Q: If you had these reservations, and you were sort of indicating you had them for a while, why did you sign him to an extension?
A: In fairness to Paul, we had gone to a Grey Cup, he was coming into his last year. It would be very, very difficult — and first of all, as you folks were saying all the time, why isn’t Paul getting an extension? — for a head coach to walk into a locker-room and command continued respect if you only had one year left. Also, there would become a case potentially of losing other assistants and also having a difficult time — and Paul made this case, and he was right — to get other assistants, particularly co-ordinators, to come on board if they saw the head coach only had one year. So to give Paul and the team the ability to make a strong case that we have a chance to be here for a long period of time if we win, it was just the most sensitive and probably the most professional thing to do. He made a strong case for it, and I agreed that it would have been difficult for him to put him in a situation coming back with just one year left on the contract. And that’s just the nature of pro sports.

Q: How confident are you that you have the leadership and the discipline amongst the players to be successful with any coach?
A: Well, we’re never going to know that until we actually start to see what happens. I did all the film, and all of these guys are playing really hard. They’re throwing their bodies around, like the Cory Watsons, the Chris Matthews, the Marcellus Bowmans, the Bryant Turners, the Alex Halls, the Jonathan Hefneys. Some of these guys are playing really, really hard. For some reason, we just don’t have the right chemical mix right now to get over the hump. And then when I talk to the players, and I believe I have a fairly good rapport with them, and I ask them, ‘Do you think your teammates care?’ all of them say yes. All of them say yes. And when I put the fact I think they’re playing hard and they seem to care and want to win, then for me there seemed to be a disconnect. And again, as it happens in pro sports, ultimately it’s gotta come back to the head coach. The head coach has to find a way to make those pieces fit and work and become productive. I feel very badly for Paul and Tina and his family, but of course Paul, being the professional, understands this is the nature of this business, and ultimately if you don’t win the head coach will be held accountable.

Q: You said that you thought this was the right time. Can you elaborate on why you felt this was the appropriate time, because when you talk to players, they were shocked, because they felt they were moving in the right direction.
A: Probably because I do think we’re close, and I felt that maybe if we made a change there was a chance to still make a strong run into the playoffs. And because I had some reservations that were not being answered, to continue down that path would’ve been negligent on my part. Because when you’re in a position like this you have to make tough decisions. And I felt if my assessment was correct, that we had some talented players who wanted to win, that for everybody if I felt that a change was going to be necessary or possibly necessary, then to the fairness of the club and the fans and our players, now was the right time to do it.

Q: With respect to now naming Tim as the interim coach, you said it’s not an easy decision to make a coaching change, but was it a little bit easier when you had someone like Tim?
A: I don’t think it was easier. Um … no, it wasn’t easier. I’ve watched Tim work. I think a lot of him as a person. He has strong character. He has a lot of respect in the locker-room. I know that. And our defences have been some of the best defences, even though we had some struggles this year and I know we had maybe a play or two at the end of the game (Friday), but up until that point our defence was playing lights out. They play their hearts out, and that’s indicative of what Tim brings to the table. I think the players will respond to that.

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