There are sure to be two schools of thought when it comes to the new vice-president of football operations for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
One side will view Joe Mack as a bold, out-of-the box hire that could pay big dividends down the road thanks to his many years in the NFL.
The other segment of the population, which is likely the majority, will wonder why the safe route (in this instance, Calgary personnel man Jim Barker) wasn’t taken after the Mike Kelly Gong Show of 2009.
The correct call will be known only through time. Right now, Mack’s appointment signals the start of a new beginning for a franchise that is coming off perhaps the most tumultuous season in its 79-year history.
“Joe Mack is all business,” a CFL source said. “He was good enough to climb the ladder in the NFL, and he got pretty high.
“Joe knows the CFL and how it’s done up here, and he’s following Mike Kelly, so they’ll like him in Winnipeg.”
The Winnipeg Football Club’s 11-member board of directors voted to hire Mack during a meeting at Canad Inns Stadium that started Thursday afternoon and lasted into the early evening.
“It was very good, very amicable — a very good meeting,” WFC chairman Ken Hildahl said after emerging from the 2 1/2-hour session. “We covered a lot of ground, a lot of issues.”
Mack, who hasn’t worked in the CFL since a three-year stint with the Bombers in the mid-1980s, will be introduced at a press conference on Friday at 10 a.m. in the Winnipeg Sun Centre.
The search committee that made the recommendation, consisting of board members Paul Robson, Gene Dunn, Joe Poplawski and incoming chairman Bill Watchorn, was divided earlier in the week, but the Mack supporters, led by Robson, won out.
“We look forward to (Friday’s) announcement,” Hildahl said.
There was an informal offer to Brendan Taman earlier in the week, but he felt the situation was more stable in Saskatchewan, where yesterday he was promoted to general manager after spending 2009 as the Roughriders’ director of football administration.
That left Mack and Barker, who has been in the CFL for all but one year since 1996, as the final two candidates. Winnipeg’s interim VP of football ops, Ross Hodgkinson, was also given an interview, but director of player personnel John Murphy, whose future with the club appears to be in peril, did not.
Mack had a strong ally on the search committee in Robson, who originally hired him in Winnipeg in 1983. Another CFL source speculated that Mack got the nod because he might be more willing than Barker to consider Greg Marshall as his head coach, which is apparently the preference of several board members.
The Bomber board has said it hopes to have its new head coach in place by the end of January.
Originally from Levittown, Pa., just northeast of Philadelphia, Mack played football at Villanova University in his home state. He was an all-league selection and captain in his senior year, and he stayed at the school following his graduation to coach the Wildcats’ defensive line and special teams.
From 1981 to ’83 he worked for the BLESTO Combine, which scouted talent for the NFL draft, representing Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore Colts, Chicago, Minnesota and Miami.
After his time in Winnipeg Mack returned to the U.S. and spent the next 13 years in the NFL, reaching the heights of assistant GM with the expansion Carolina Panthers between 1994 and ’97. He won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins in 1992.
Robson was Winnipeg’s general manager when in February 1984 he hired Mack to be the team’s player personnel director. He co-ordinated Bomber training camps, oversaw Canadian and U.S. college scouting and was responsible for attending NFL and USFL camps. Winnipeg won the Grey Cup in his first season.
Mack left the Bombers in June 1987, not long after Robson left for the Ottawa Rough Riders and Cal Murphy was promoted from Bombers head coach to GM.
Mack hasn’t held a football job since 2001, after three years of helping the expansion Cleveland Browns get off the ground as their director of football operations.
He has served as a sports consultant since 2005, assisting NFL, Major League Baseball and NCAA teams.