Mack is on the Winnipeg hot seat

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:46 PM ET

When the new GM strolled confidently into the Winnipeg Sun Centre on Friday morning with a few Bomber executives and board members in tow, some assigned to cover the moment weren’t even sure which one was Joe Mack.

The 55-year-old Pennsylvania native has been out of the picture so long that the only photographic evidence the man even existed was from his first stint as the Blue and Gold’s player personnel director for three seasons in the mid-1980s.

He will be anonymous no more.

Mack is now the man on one of the hottest seats in Manitoba, the person in charge of ending Winnipeg’s 19-year Grey Cup drought — the longest in the CFL by nine years — and repairing the brand damage that occurred during the ill-fated Mike Kelly experiment of 2009.

“In this game there are very few, if any, silver bullets or an instant path to winning the Grey Cup,” board and search committee member Joe Poplawski said. “We strongly believe, however, that the process of creating that kind of team starts today.”

Mack, who hasn’t worked in the CFL since leaving the Bombers in 1987, beat out Calgary personnel man Jim Barker for the job and signed a contract for two years and the option for a third.

Saskatchewan GM Brendan Taman led the three-man race earlier this week, but he bailed to take the Rider job when the board asked him to consider hiring Mack to work under him.

Mack, whose official title is vice-president and general manager of football operations, laughed out loud when asked if he was concerned about being the second choice.

“I’m very happy that they’ve decided to give me the opportunity to take on this challenge,” he said. “So I’ll just leave it at that.”

Mack, who a source said will earn between $200,000 and $250,000 annually, will report directly to the board chairman, a position Ken Hildahl will hold until giving way to Bill Watchorn in a month or two. Previously the GM reported to the president and CEO, another position the Bombers need to fill.

Board member Paul Robson was Winnipeg’s GM when he hired Mack to be the team’s personnel director in 1984. Twenty-six years later Robson was the driving force behind convincing the rest of the 11-member board to take a chance on someone who hasn’t been in the CFL for nearly a quarter century.

The fact that Mack has been in the U.S. since 1987 — and essentially out of football since 2001 — has some CFL types questioning the hire. Mack, who looked comfortable and made a solid first impression on Friday, confidently dismissed any worries Bomber fans might have.

He said he has kept in touch with “a number of people in the CFL” and feels “really comfortable about being able to hit the ground running. … When it comes to players I’m a pretty quick study.”

Mack, who has lived in Charlotte, N.C., since 1994, worked for four NFL teams between 1987 and

2000, and he said he had a couple of offers to return to the league in recent years. The reason he got out — and stayed out — was because of family. His personnel jobs in the NFL were consuming his life, and he wanted to see his children grow up.

“My family’s really important to me,” said Mack, whose offspring are now 21, 18 and 16 years old. “I had really gotten to a point where I was very ill at ease with the amount of time I was spending away from my kids.”

Poplawski isn’t concerned about Mack’s long absence from the CFL.

“When you look at the network of individuals he will bring to the table … the fact he has contacts south of the border and in Canada, I have no concerns whatsoever,” Poplawski said.

Mack’s first order of business will be hiring a head coach with CFL experience, which he hopes to accomplish in the next two weeks. He left Winnipeg a few hours after Friday’s announcement and plans to conduct interviews at next week’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

The leading candidate is Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall.


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