Bombers fans happy but not satisfied

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:38 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The results are in, and Bomber Nation is not satisfied with a 10-8 record and a trip to the Grey Cup.

The fans believe changes need to be made in several areas of the team, and they let those feelings be known in the Sun’s annual You Be The Boss poll. A record number of participants — nearly 1,300 — took part in this year’s survey.

The support of players and coaches is similar this year to the way it was 12 months ago, when the Bombers were coming off a 4-14 campaign and a second straight season out of the playoffs.

It appears 21 years without a Grey Cup is starting to rub off on the fan base.

Here’s a closer look at the numbers …

— The fans are still eternally optimistic. Last year the majority (77%) felt the team just needed some minor tinkering. That’s what happened, and the team ended up in the Grey Cup. Now they believe they are on the cusp of winning it all, with very few changes needed, although 31% are of the opinion that the Bombers are still some significant pieces away from being a champion. Last year 21% felt Winnipeg had serious problems — and that team was 4-14!

— Defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke, despite producing one of the best defences the Bombers have had in years, got only 81% support. By comparison, Greg Marshall got 97% of the vote after the 2006 season in which they were 9-9 and lost in the semifinal round of the playoffs.

— Head coach Paul LaPolice got the stamp of approval from 84% of the people, which was up 1% from a year ago. That means in 16 years everyone will be behind him.

— Interestingly, 24% of respondents feel Burke should coach the team next year instead of LaPolice. Wonder if they’d do that.

— Only 7% want LaPolice to keep calling the plays, but he’ll continue to do so. The heat will be on him and his new offensive co-ordinator next season to produce a more consistent attack.

— Last year Bomber Nation wanted to punt five players. This year it wants to get rid of only four.

— The fans are more happy with GM Joe Mack than they are with LaPolice. Mack got a 96% approval rating, and 87% feel he deserves a contract extension. Only 55% believe LaPolice deserves to have a couple of years tacked on to his deal. They’re both going to get one, according to Winnipeg Football Club chairman Bill Watchorn.

— Quarterbacks are always a popular topic in Winnipeg, and the numbers this year are, as always, interesting. Only 26% believe No. 1 gun Buck Pierce is the long-term answer at quarterback, but 57% want him to be the starting quarterback in 2012. On the other hand, Pierce got the lowest approval rating among the top three pivots at 78%. Alex Brink had 93% fan support, while Joey Elliott got 85%.

— The Bombers have a boatload of potential free agents, and the fan base wants left guard Brendon LaBatte to be the top priority. The Saskatchewan native got 26% of the vote if the Bombers could sign only one of their 13 free agents, while Pierce and receiver Greg Carr were next, both garnering 23%.

There are two schools of thought out there when it comes to LaBatte, who has been Winnipeg’s top offensive lineman for the last three years. On one hand, Mack said LaBatte is simply waiting until January to sign a new deal because of tax purposes. On the other, well-placed sources in Regina believe he wants to go home and play for the Riders, even though he wasn’t a big CFL fan growing up.

There’s no way Pierce won’t be back, while Carr wants to give the NFL a shot.

— Brady Browne, Steve Morley, Don Oramasionwu and Andre Douglas need not cry themselves to sleep. They got votes when it came to fans being able to sign one free agent; they just didn’t get enough to get up to 1%.

— Even though he’s more injury-prone than Pierce, Joe Lobendahn is the man most fans want starting at middle linebacker next season. In fact, 76% want the Hawaiian, who tore his ACL for the second time, as the quarterback of the defence in 2012. It makes sense because he was playing his best ball when he got hurt.

— The majority of fans were upset with two of six significant moves the Bomber brass made in 2011: drafting receiver Jade Etienne fourth overall and limiting the playing time of defensive end Odell Willis. Drafting Henoc Muamba first overall, starting Pierce at quarterback, trading quarterback Steven Jyles and benching Terence Jeffers-Harris all got thumbs up from Blue boosters.

— It appears the fans are in love with running back Chris Garrett. A whopping 87% believe Garrett should be the starting tailback next season, while 13% are still in Fred Reid’s corner. Not only that, but 99% want to keep Garrett and 57% want to punt Reid.

— Cornerback and kick returner Jovon Johnson, who won three team awards and was voted the CFL’s top defensive player in 2011, is the most supported Bomber. He received only 15 “punt” votes from the 1,298 who took part in the survey. Garrett was next with 18 “punts.”

— There were some big swings in support between 2010 and 2011. Brink had the biggest of all, going from 19% last year to 93% this year. Now that’s improvement. Joe Lobendahn, meanwhile, went from a 35% approval rating after 2010 to 76% wanting him to be the starting linebacker after this season. On the coaching front, special teams co-ordinator Kyle Walters is getting there. He went from 24% after last year to 38% after 2011.

On the other hand, more than a few players fell out of favour. Punter Mike Renaud plummeted to 47% after getting 97% support last year. Centre Obby Khan went from 68% to 49%, kicker Justin Palardy dropped from 98% to 77% and defensive end Odell Willis, despite co-leading the league with 13 sacks, plunged from 87% to 68%.


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