Bombers coach ready to deliver

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:41 AM ET

Paul LaPolice had some news to break.

Sitting in his office after practice this week, a Blue Bomber jersey with his college number, 82, providing the backdrop, the old receiver looked proud as a soon-to-be new papa should.

“Tina is sixth months pregnant,” the 28th head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced, referring to his Winnipeg-born wife. “I don’t think anybody knows that. There’s a scoop for you.”

It’ll be the second baby in the LaPolice household, following the birth of daughter Payton nearly three years ago.

This one, though, will always have that born-in-Winnipeg identity.

Just like daddy’s head coaching career.

Tonight, the world gets its first look at LaPolice’s football baby, squished leather nose, wrinkles and all. How his football team grows up over the next five months, fans in this drought-stricken city are eager to see.

LaPolice, of course, has little to do with the franchise’s Grey Cup famine. But he’s forced to wear it just the same, just like Mike Kelly, Doug Berry, Jim Daley, Dave Ritchie and the rest who’ve worn a headset in vain along that west sideline.

Everywhere the Bomber boss goes, whoever he is, people want to talk football.

“Anyplace where football’s important, it’s really neat to be a head coach,” LaPolice said. “Because fans come up and talk to you, what they’re excited about, what they’re mad about.”

There’s nothing to be mad about, yet. In fact, things couldn’t be better.

After a 2009 season that exacted a heavy toll on even the most loyal Bomber booster, LaPolice’s low-key approach has been as welcome as a breath of cool air on a hot July night.

But just wait until that first draw play that loses two yards on second and 10.

Grocery shopping will never be the same, and the 40-year-old from New Hampshire knows it.

Get what he once told Gary Doer when the two of them were golfing together.

“There’s three things people think they can do,” LaPolice told the then-premier. “They think they’re the best lovers in the world, they think they can run the government and they think they can call plays.

“Gary loved it,” LaPolice said. “He’s like, ‘Can I borrow that, Paul?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ”

Second-guess coach LaPo’s play-calling at your own risk.

This is a guy who was drawing up football plays while in class at Plymouth State College, working on his phys-ed degree.

“I remember the girl who used to sit next to me, she goes, ‘Why would you do that all day?’ ”

His father wondered, too.

“My dad wanted me to go into business,” LaPolice recalled. “I couldn’t do math real well. I wasn’t a real good accountant.”

Dissecting the X’s and O’s on a chalkboard and figuring out what can beat a defence, that’s another thing, as LaPolice has proven in successful stints as an offensive co-ordinator during his 10 years in the CFL.

The first time he ran the Winnipeg offence, in 2002, Khari Jones tossed 46 touchdown passes, Milt Stegall catching a record 23 of them.

Of course, it doesn’t take Einstein to know being the head man is a whole new equation.

LaPolice says he first started thinking he might be cut out for a head job a year or two after that record-setting season. But he figured it might be in the cards 10 years down the road.

“I’ve always thought, ‘Worry about the job that you’ve got, and then the other things happen.’ We get better every year as coaches. I mean, I’m three times better than I was three years ago. And I’m probably 100 times better than when I was here in 2002 and 2003. That’s great about football. It’s ever-evolving. And if you think you know it all, you’re lost.”

And if you start to act like you know it all, you’ll lose everyone around you, which may have happened when Kelly arrived on the scene last year.

“He’s the same guy I knew in 2002, 2003,” Doug Brown, one of just three Bombers here for coach LaPo’s first go-round, said of the new coach. “He got a big promotion and it didn’t change him. He’s not trying to be somebody he’s not, now that he’s the big boss.”

So who is he?

A nice guy with an edge, is how I described LaPolice the day he was hired.

He’s ultra-competitive, too. Hates losing. But he’s learned you have to get over it quickly, as hard as that can be.

He’s also learned a bit about Winnipeg, from his wife and from his first stint here.

He may have a better feel for this community than any new head coach in recent memory, which might help when things heat up, as they’re bound to.

That first round of boos won’t shock him. The impatience won’t take him by surprise.

“Nobody just yells, comes in and shakes your hand and says, ‘We have to win the Grey Cup,’” LaPolice said of his interaction with fans.

They might not say it. But that’s exactly what they’re thinking: maybe not this year, but at least show us you’re on the right track.

“I didn’t take this to rebuild and say in four years from now we may have a chance to be something,” LaPolice said. “We want to be something this year.”

It’s time for Paul LaPolice to show us what his new baby can be.


Videos

Photos