Another hire, another shocker on Maroons Road.
First it was Joe Mack, the Winnipeg Blue Bomber scout from 24 years ago, brought back to generally manage the whole operation, and chosen ahead of current CFL execs like Jim Barker and Brendan Taman.
Today, Mack will go against the wishes of a large portion of the fan base, not to mention his own board of directors, and introduce Paul LaPolice as his first head coach.
A head-scratcher, to be sure.
I can guarantee you some board members are shocked Greg Marshall won’t be at that head table at high noon today.
Marshall was the obvious choice, overlooked the last two times we went through this, first when Doug Berry was hired late in 2005, then again late in ’08 when former president/CEO Lyle Bauer handed the job to Professor Mike Kelly.
Marshall, who’d swallowed his pride and worked here, under Berry, for three years — turning around the worst defence in CFL history, you may recall — was much more than the sentimental choice, though.
He was solid as they come, highly thought of throughout the Bomber organization, by everyone from office staff to players to assistant coaches.
Hell, Winnipeg D-line coach Richard Harris didn’t apply for the head job out of respect for Marshall.
Word was Marshall was the majority of the board’s choice the day it fired Kelly in December.
Joe Poplawski, a board member and member of the search committee that hired Mack as GM, publicly endorsed Marshall the day Mack was introduced. The guy seemed to be the perfect antidote to the unprofessionalism of the Professor’s regime.
The only drawback to hiring Marshall was the perception it might leave of Mack being a puppet of the board.
Well, if Paul Robson and Co. were, indeed, hoping to pull his strings, the rookie GM has yanked back, serving notice this is his show.
For that, we applaud the man.
As for his choice of head coach, we’re intrigued and, yeah, maybe a tad skeptical.
I remember LaPolice from his days as Winnipeg’s offensive co-ordinator under Dave Ritchie, in 2002 and ’03, a period that produced a mixed offensive bag: a truckload of touchdown passes (46) one year, an inconsistent attack the next.
At one point I recall wondering, in this space, if Peewee Herman were calling the plays, a suggestion LaPolice, understandably, took some offence to.
His stint here ended with an embarrassing home loss to Saskatchewan in the 2003 division playoff game, and LaPolice wound up a sacrificial lamb in the doomed Ritchie regime.
He’s since bounced back nicely, working his way back up to co-ordinator again, this time in Saskatchewan, where he’s guided the Riders through the transition to quarterback Darian Durant and helped them get to last year’s Grey Cup game, which they should have won.
And no, he wasn’t the guy who couldn’t count to 13 — he was the one almost throwing up in the spotter’s booth when Saskatchewan was called for too-many-men on what should have been the play that sealed a Riders win.
His offences in Regina haven’t ripped up the league, ranking sixth in total yardage each of the last two seasons.
But they scored some points, and from the people we’ve talked to, LaPolice is one of the league’s bright, young coaches.
Whether or not he’s ready for the big chair, nobody really knows.
Not even Joe Mack.
Bottom line, though: we admire the guy’s guts.
Whether or not it leads to glory, who knows.
Marshall was the safer choice, LaPolice more of a gamble.
Gee, does that sound familiar? Seem to recall calling the Professor’s hiring a gamble, too.
My first question for the new coach: who’s going to be touching the quarterbacks?