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Naylor: A different story for Ticats and Bombers this season

Dave Naylor
9/11/2012 9:36:51 AM
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Last November, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers met in the East Division Final, a game that marked a high point for both clubs in a few regards.
 
The Bombers had just won their first division title in 10 years by completing a remarkable turnaround from the 4-14 season the previous season with essentially the same group of players as the year before.
 
Hamilton, meanwhile, was coming off its first playoff win in a decade and had just become the first team ever to beat an Anthony Calvillo-led Montreal team in a home playoff game where the future hall of fame quarterback started and finished the game.
 
At the conclusion of Winnipeg's win over Hamilton, Bomber general manager Joe Mack and head coach Paul LaPolice danced in celebration, while Tiger-Cats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille walked off the field with his head held high at having taken its team to a point in the season it hadn't reached since 2001. 
 
Both head coaches seemed to have a lot of which to be proud, especially given that each had guided his team to a division final without the benefit of one of the league's marquee quarterbacks.
 
But as we move into the backstretch of the 2012 CFL season, neither man is working in the CFL.
 
Bellefeuille, fired at the end of last season, is coaching receivers in the United Football League at Omaha under former Argos head coach Bart Andrus. Meanwhile, LaPolice is at home in Winnipeg, spending the time he had planned to put into his football team with with his wife and children.
 
And neither team would appear to be the better for it.
 
Which isn't to suggest that Hamilton's current head coach, George Cortez, or Winnipeg's recently appointed Tim Burke aren't deserving of the opportunities that have come there way.
 
It's merely a reminder that change doesn't always bring improvement.
 
At 3-7, riding a five-game losing streak, it's hard to argue that the Tiger-Cats are a better team today than they were a year ago at this team when they were 5-5, en route to an eventual 8-10 record.
 
Bellefeuille managed the Cats down the stretch last season by alternating quarterbacks Kevin Glenn and Quinton Porter, a move that suggested he didn't really believe in either of them as his starter. Apparently neither did Ticat management because during the off-season it swapped Glenn to Calgary for Henry Burris, who has started every game this season.
 
With the opportunity to overhaul much of the personnel on defence and make significant upgrades to the  offensive talent, expectations in Steeltown were heightened in Hamitlon. But the Cats seem to have gone from an okay team to not-so-okay team over the past 12 months.
 
The Bombers made what to many was a hasty move by jettisoning Paul Lapolice with a 2-6 record, less than half a season removed from his team's appearance in the Grey Cup game. Though general manage Joe Mack alluded to a number of things behind the scenes that concerned him, the bottom line is that on the field the Bombers seemed to be turning the corner under their former head coach.
 
A win over Hamilton, and a last-second loss to the B.C. Lions - considered by most the best team in the CFL - hardly seemed like a strong case for dismissal based on what was happening on the field. Especially considering the team's schedule of four road games in 19 days to begin the season and the fact that starting quarterback Buck Pierce had been gone since early in the season, just one of many injuries that afflicted the Bombers.
 
The result of the first game post-Lapolice, a 52-0 shutout to Saskatchewan, will be one they'll be talking about for a while and seems directly tied to the upheaval during the week leading up to it. Sunday's rematch showed the Bombers still have some heart, but Burke's decision to forgo a 42-yard field goal opportunity - with the wind - that would have iced the game, is the biggest head-scratcher of the season so far.
 
The decision to punt backfired when Mike Renaud blasted his kick into the endzone for a meaningless single point that resulted in Saskatchewan gaining field position at its own 35-yard line, then moving into field goal position for the game-winning kick as time expired.
 
And while Burke's decision seemed ill-conceived to most - including TSN broadcaster Chris Cuthbert who called it "one of the most controversial coaching decisions you'll get in the CFL" -- it's the kind of move symptomatic of an inexperienced head coach over-thinks a simple situation and ends up botching what should have been an easy choice.
 
And one that Burke said after the game that he got wrong.
 
Would LaPolice have attempted the field goal? You'd have to think so.
 
Would the Bombers, who haven't scored an offensive touchdown since firing their head coach, have fared better offensively if LaPolice was still there? It's at least a fair question.
 
The lesson here is that management tends to focus only on the half-empty half side of the glass, believing that change can only make things better.
 
But at we've seen this season in both Hamilton and Winnipeg, that isn't always the case.


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