LaPolice gets two-year extension with Bombers
By Kirk Penton, QMI Agency
|BC Lions coach Wally Buono (R) is congratulated by Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Paul LaPolice after the Lions won the CFL's 99th Grey Cup football game in Vancouver, British Columbia November 27, 2011. (REUTERS/Todd Korol)
WINNIPEG - Paul LaPolice is no doubt hoping it ends much differently for him than it did for Doug Berry and Dave Ritchie.
The Bombers head coach signed a two-year contract extension on Tuesday that will take him to the end of the 2014 CFL season. The 41-year-old improved the Bombers from 4-14 in his rookie season to 10-8, an East Division title and a Grey Cup berth last year.
Even though his record after two seasons is a less-than-stellar 14-22, the improvement between 2010 and 2011 justifies the new deal.
"The fact that we were 4-14 and we were taking a fair amount of understandable flak, if you will, and we were able to overcome that and get into first place and go to the Grey Cup says a lot," GM Joe Mack said Tuesday. "And Paul deserves a great deal of that credit."
And now comes the hard part for the man they call LaPo. Improving a team in the beginning is usually pretty simple considering it probably just fired someone else. It's taking that team to the next level that isn't always easy.
Just ask Berry, and Ritchie before that. Berry guided the Bombers to the 2007 Grey Cup in his second season (just like LaPolice), got an extension a few months later (just like LaPolice) and was fired in November 2008 after a worse record and a home playoff loss to Edmonton (just like LaPolice is hoping will not be the case).
Ritchie led the Bombers to the Grey Cup in 2001, which was his third year on the job, but the slide started in 2002 and, while holding on a little longer than Berry, was fired seven games into the 2004 campaign.
LaPolice won't feel any more pressure to win than what he puts on himself.
"The pressure is to win the Grey Cup no matter (what) your contract status is," he said. "Those are pressures I feel every day. I don't need anybody to wake me out of bed and say, 'Hey, we want you win the Grey Cup.' That's not what drives me. The best motivation is internal motivation."
There are two more ominous similarities between the LaPolice and Berry situations, and then one rather large difference that works in his favour. The Bombers didn't do much roster shuffling in the off-season after their '07 Grey Cup appearance, and this winter the Blue and Gold had a rough go of it, losing Brendon LaBatte and Greg Carr and not being able to sign any free agents they were chasing.
Another parallel is the offence. Berry's offence started faltering in 2008, and he ended up taking the play-calling duties away from Kit Cartwright and gave them to Kevin Glenn in the middle of the summer. The experiment failed, and it was a big reason why CEO Lyle Bauer stepped in at the end of the season and handed a pink slip to Berry.
LaPolice is also going with an offensive co-ordinator who, like Cartwright, had no CFL experience when he showed up in Winnipeg. Gary Crowton started on the job last week and will be tasked with improving one of the CFL's worst offences.
The big difference between LaPolice and Berry, though, is there is no Bauer around to step in and fire him. New CEO Garth Buchko won't order Mack, who got his own extension earlier this off-season, to tube LaPolice. Mack and LaPolice are in this together, they both have job security, and they believe they're on the right track.
"I'm excited that we can continue to build the organization," LaPolice said. "Part of our process is trying to be consistent winners, and we think consistency breeds us getting better at everything we do. It's a good start."