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Bombers say GM Mack's job is safe despite backlash

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The Canadian Press
9/4/2012 6:13:20 PM
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WINNIPEG -- Frustrated Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans shouldn't expect any more heads to roll in the wake of the CFL team's humiliating 52-0 road loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday.

Bombers board of directors chairperson Bill Watchorn said Tuesday in a phone interview that he's aware of the growing backlash directed at team vice-president and general manager Joe Mack, but said that no changes to the team's front office are expected.

Mack has been on the hot seat since he fired former head coach Paul LaPolice on Aug. 25 and replaced him on an interim basis with defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke.

Following Burke's debut in Sunday's loss -- the first time the Bombers (2-7) have been held scoreless since 1969 -- Mack became the target of a Facebook page called "Fire Joe Mack Petition" and a "Fire Joe Mack" Twitter feed. As of Tuesday afternoon, the "Fire Joe Mack Petition" page had 3,686 likes on Facebook.

While Watchorn understands fans' frustrations -- he shared the same emotions as he watched the game on TV -- he tried to put the loss in perspective.

"One game is not a season," Watchorn said. "Disappointing though it may be, the board has confidence in Joe Mack, the coaches and the players and the CEO (Garth Buchko).

"I think that you'll find, we hope, but I think you'll find that the performance will improve. You can't go from a team of last year to a team of this year, with essentially the same core group although I know there's a few who left, and say it's useless.

"So I would say the board has the confidence in those people. We will do a review of football operations annually as we always do at the end of the season."

At his regular meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon, Burke said he didn't know about the Internet campaign to have Mack fired.

"First of all, I'm not aware of it because I don't go on Facebook and, secondly, especially now that I'm in this role as a head coach, I don't read the newspapers or watch TV, not the news, at least," he said.

But he did have a message for fans.

"We're not dead yet," Burke said. "We're going to go out there and give it everything we've got and we need their support."

The Bombers will get a chance to redeem themselves Sunday afternoon when they host Saskatchewan in the annual Banjo Bowl, but it won't be with Buck Pierce as their starting quarterback.

Burke said doctors have ruled out Pierce because he's still feeling the effects of tearing ligaments and a muscle in his left foot July 13 in a 42-10 loss to Edmonton.

Joey Elliott, who started in the Saskatchewan debacle, gets the nod for his fourth straight start. The third-year pivot completed nine of 19 passes for only 61 yards with one interception and was replaced by Alex Brink in the fourth quarter.

Burke said he hopes Elliott's performance was an anomaly.

"Just like everything else, one person is never to blame for such a terrible loss so there's a lot of factors that go into it," he said.

Fans weren't pointing their fingers at Burke for the loss, seeming to give him a pass because of the circumstances of his job promotion.

The Bombers are the worst team in the league and their 2-7 record is the direct opposite of last year's mid-season mark. Last season's squad went on to finish 10-8 and lost the Grey Cup 34-23 to the B.C. Lions.

The blame for that flipping of records has fallen on Mack after fans were divided on LaPolice's firing the day after the team lost 20-17 to B.C. at home.

Some fans thought the close contest, and a Bomber win the week before against Hamilton, was an indication the squad might be turning the corner.

At the press conference announcing LaPolice's firing, Mack said it wasn't a snap decision. He cited factors such as a lack of improvement in the offence, a losing record since a year ago, undisciplined play and his thought that LaPolice may have lost his players' confidence.

Mack and LaPolice were hired following the 2009 season and the firing of former head coach Mike Kelly, who also had a Facebook page called "Fire Mike Kelly" during his 7-11 season.

In Sunday's defeat, the Bombers' offence -- run by first-year offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton -- only managed 102 total net yards offence, had a total of 10 first downs and only possessed the ball for 20:54 in the 60-minute tilt.

Winnipeg also racked up 101 penalty yards, turned the ball over five times and allowed the Roughriders (4-5) to rack up 422 total net yards offence. The victory had ended a five-game Saskatchewan losing streak.

"It was inauspicious start, let's put it this way, Burke said of his coaching debut. "It's certainly not the way I wanted it to go."

Same could be said for Watchorn.

"My initial emotion was embarrassment at the performance and frustration, disappointment," Watchorn said. "I think those three words would describe my state of mind at the time."

Mack, who was last in the CFL as Winnipeg's director of player personnel from 1984-87, wasn't made available to the media after the Labour Day Classic. A team spokesperson said he'll speak to reporters this week.

Burke wasn't anticipating changes to the roster he inherited, noting it could take three to four weeks before any new player could learn the CFL game and the team's system.

When asked what would motivate the players if fear of losing their jobs wasn't in the equation, Burke said it should be pride.

"I hope that individual pride drives them -- pride as a group, pride as a team, pride as an individual."

Watchorn was leaving roster decisions up to the football minds.

"Any personnel moves would have to be originating from Joe Mack and Garth Buchko, primarily Joe Mack on football, and it's their team, it's their season and they've got to deliver the goods," Watchorn said.

Notes: Injuries will keep defensive backs Johnny Sears and Jeremy McGee out of Sunday's lineup, while veteran offensive lineman Steve Morley was seeing a doctor to assess an injury, Burke said.

Joe Mack (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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