It was a couple of weeks ago when I first broached the subject with the rookie boss of the Blue Bombers.
By then we’d seen and heard Paul LaPolice for a few months. Watched him go out of his way to thank fans for their support and endure countless questions from the media, always with a smile on his face and a “thanks, guys,” at the end.
But what got us wondering was the way Coach LaPo handled defensive end Phillip Hunt after he took three roughing penalties in a loss to Hamilton, Aug. 13.
At the time, LaPolice explained that any player who takes a 15-yard penalty has to stand up in front of his teammates the next week and explain himself.
A confessional, if you will. Football’s version of an AA meeting.
It got me thinking about what Cal Murphy would have done in a similar situation. Or Dave Ritchie, for that matter.
Which raises a critical question about Coach LaPo: is he another version of Mr. Nice Guy, the head coach everybody likes, but who can’t get the job done because he can’t get the attention of his players?
Ritchie used to say you have to put some fear into them to get the most out of them, and Murphy was a master at doing just that.
“I don’t think I (decide), ‘Hey, I’m going to be a hard-ass today,’ ” LaPolice said, days after that crushing, home-field loss to Hamilton. “But it will come out of me when the time’s right.”
If 2-5 wasn’t a good time, then how about now, with his team having lost four straight, at 2-6 and in danger of falling out of the race for a playoff spot in the CFL East?
In another polite scrum with reporters Wednesday, Coach LaPo said he did, in fact, come back from the bye week with a bit more of an edge.
“Like a guy went offsides, we’re giving them pushups now,” he said.
Ritchie and Murphy would nearly burst blood vessels screaming about stupid penalties that repeated themselves from games to practice. There’d be no doubt they were at the end of their ropes.
Coach LaPo doesn’t believe in fining players for bad penalties, either.
It’s Camp Kumbaya, it seems.
Not so, says veteran centre Obby Khan, who swears there’s a side of the boss most people don’t see.
“Players are scared of him,” Khan said. “I’m scared of him. He’s the head coach. He does a good job of keeping that separation.”
Khan recalled an old quote he heard about how a head coach should be such that he can put his arm around the player, but the player would never dare put his arm around the coach.
“A player would never dare put his arm around Coach LaPolice,” Khan said. “That’s the kind of the vibe we get with him.”
That’s interesting, because we don’t see that at all.
“Everybody cracks the whip in their own ways,” quarterback Buck Pierce said. “Do we get down on ourselves? Do we have somebody yelling at us and kicking us when we’re down? That’s not our attitude.
“We understand what’s at stake. We know the sense of urgency.”
The bottom line, of course, is finding a way to get the most from his players, which Pierce says LaPolice is doing.
“He’s a positive guy. But he’s also a very serious guy,” Pierce said. “I applaud him for the way he’s handled most of these things early on.”
He’s certainly been a pleasure to deal with.
“You guys sometimes see me talking to the fans and talking to you guys, and think I’m a nice guy,” LaPolice said. “When there’s something wrong, they hear it from me. They know when I’m pissed off. You probably don’t see that as much ’cause you’re not in our meetings.”
But if that urgency doesn’t start translating onto the field, and soon, you know what’ll happen, right?
Another nice guy will finish last.