WINNIPEG - Four years ago today, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers thought they were on the way up.
Turns out they were headed in the opposite direction.
Bombers GM Joe Mack vowed on Tuesday that he and the rest of the brass will not let the Blue and Gold take a dive like the team that followed up a 2007 Grey Cup appearance with a flameout in the East Division semifinal — on home turf, no less — the following year.
“I’m aware that we were a good team this year. We weren’t a great team,” Mack said as the Bombers cleaned out their lockers and held their exit meetings with coaches. “So there’s things we have to do that I’ve already thought about. We’ll start to implement them as this off-season goes about, but we’re going to strive to get better. And we won’t be complacent.
“And there will be probably some changes made because they have to be made to get where we need to go. I’m aware of what I want to do in that regard, and hopefully we’ll be able to execute that in the off-season.
“But we will never be complacent as long as I’m here. We’re always going to be on the razor’s edge trying to get better, because if not you’re going backwards.”
You could tell by the look in his eyes that Mack is dead serious, which means Sunday’s Grey Cup loss to the B.C. Lions very well might have been the last game for more Bombers than one might suspect. Winnipeg went from 4-14 in 2010 to 10-8 this year, so its roster doesn’t need to be blown up. It won’t hurt, though, if it undergoes quite a bit of nipping and tucking.
The Bombers in 2008 were almost in the same situation as this one is in right now. Doug Berry was a second-year coach who had just unexpectedly guided Winnipeg to the Grey Cup, which they lost. The defence was better than the offence. They had only three potential free agent starters, and they were all re-signed. Not much else was done, and essentially the same squad returned in 2008.
Ditto for 2001, when the Bombers lost to the Stampeders in the Grey Cup and allowed an aging team to get older. The result in 2002 was a loss in the West Final.
Doug Brown, who is retiring after 11 seasons, made the following warning on Nov. 27, 2007: “There’s lessons to be learned from 2001,” Brown said that day. “There’s a fine line between keeping a core group of players intact and not making enough improvements to progress. They say if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”
Mack is not going to let the Bombers get worse. He loves young, less expensive talent, and he will no doubt trim a few veterans from the roster. That right there will already be a difference from what happened after 2001 and 2007. In addition, Mack will sit down with head coach Paul LaPolice this winter and work with him to improve the offence.
“It’s obvious we have to be more productive there,” Mack said. “Paul’s aware of that. I’m aware of that. We have very constructive, frank discussions about everything on the team.
“To Paul’s credit, he’s always open to acknowledging where we have to get better. He and I will have very in-depth conversations about what we need to do to get the offence to the championship level we want it to be.”
Coincidentally, the way Berry mishandled a struggling offence in 2008 was a big reason why Lyle Bauer fired him at season’s end.
That’s it for today’s history lesson.
It’s time to find out what the Bombers have learned.