LaPolice nominated for coach of year

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolie. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI Agency)

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolie. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI Agency)

JIM BENDER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:55 PM ET

WINNIPEG - It sure looks like his nomination as CFL Coach of the Year will translate into at least a contract extension for Winnipeg's Paul LaPolice.

And who's to argue? The turnaround season that he headed has already led to new pacts for both GM Joe Mack and quarterback Buck Pierce.

"Joe and I have had talks about that," the Blue Bombers mentor admitted Thursday.

LaPolice led the Bombers from a 4-14 season where he suffered growing pains as a first-time CFL head coach, to a first-place finish in the East at 10-8 and an appearance in the Grey Cup, which they lost to the B.C. Lions.

"I think it was first time first (place) in over 10 years (2001) and I think that's a big part of it because Montreal had locked down the East for a number of years, and for us to break that logjam was a big thing," LaPolice said.

"There's a lot of pressure in that East Final. We faced a team (Hamilton) that was not supposed to win. We had all the pressure, we had a sellout crowd and we responded well and played a great game there to get to the Grey Cup so, a lot of things happened great this year."

Not that he's taking all the credit for it.

"Any award as coach of the year is more of a team award than anything," said LaPolice, 41. "I'm very honoured to represent our support staff, the players and the coaches that I've worked with because, without them, I'm not standing here with that nomination. So, the players did a tremendous job this year, the coaches did a tremendous job. I tried to keep them on the right bus and get them there and certainly, a name we haven't mentioned for a while that should be raised was coach (Richard) Harris as part of our emotional journey, too. We always want to remember him after what we went through last year."

Harris, of course, died as the result of a heart attack during the season and was not replaced, nor did anyone take over his office.

Also nominated for the award were Lions' head man Wally Buono, who will likely be named the winner in Toronto on March 2, and Edmonton's Kavis Reid.

"Going against Wally Buono and Kavis Reid, they are both very deserving men and I'm just kind of flattered by the (nomination)," LaPolice said.

But he is not about to rest on his laurels. LaPolice has already fired offensive co-ordinator Jamie Barresi, and hired Gary Crowton to replace him. LaPolice is also willing to allow Crowton to call the offensive plays.

"Before we talk about the growth (as head coach), it's a yearly thing," LaPolice said. "We have to understand that you have to start fresh. You have to get better each year. If you don't get better, somebody (else) will. I think that's the first thing that I've always concentrated on. I think we've grown and I think I've probably been a little bit more patient. I'm trying to communicate more with the players as much as possible to make sure we're all on the same page. I think I'm better at managing the roster, I think I'm better at making decisions on the field."

LaPolice, who, is the first Bombers coach to be nominated as Coach of Year since Dave Ritchie won in 2001.

LaPolice has already started working on how the team can get better, particularly the offence, and has gotten involved in trying to convince some of the free agents to return to the fold.

"This year, going to the Grey Cup will not have any bearing on what goes forward," he said. "So, we have to have an understanding that it's harder to win games this year and we have to get ready to do that. So, that's the message to the players and that's the message I believe in."

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