Pressure's on LaPolice

Blue Bombers coach Paul LaPolice instructs his team during practice in preparation for the Grey Cup...

Blue Bombers coach Paul LaPolice instructs his team during practice in preparation for the Grey Cup game last year. The team hopes to avoid a franchise-record title drought this season. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:28 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Paul LaPolice is on the verge of making history.

It’s just not the kind of history any head coach in any sport wants to make.

If the Blue Bombers don’t win the Grey Cup this year, it’ll be a franchise-record 22nd consecutive season without a championship, eclipsing the agonizing 21-year Bomber drought from 1963-83, inclusive.

Fair or not, LaPolice would wear that tag forever, so I guess you could say the pressure’s on — even if he has only been at the helm the last two seasons.

Starting this week, with the opening of rookie camp Wednesday, then main camp Sunday, Coach LaPo will try to do what Darryl Rogers, Urban Bowman, Jeff Reinebold, Gary Hoffman, Dave Ritchie, Jim Daley, Doug Berry and Mike Kelly couldn’t.

That’s a lot of ghosts hanging around the old coach’s office on Maroons Road.

I don’t know if the ghosts will make the move to the new facility, but there’s one way to ensure they don’t.

A trip to the big game last November in just his second season suggests LaPolice might be the guy to end whatever curse haunts this team.

Then again, Ritchie and Berry reached the Grey Cup, too, before watching it all fall apart before their eyes.

If Coach LaPo believes he’s on the verge, he’s not saying.

“Last year we were in the last game, and that’s a start,” he said, Monday. “We’ve now got to be consistent players who do it. Knowing that, each year is different. Nobody picked us one year ago to even be in that game.”

Not sure a lot of people will pick them to be in this year’s, either.

While the CFL East was a bit of a dog’s breakfast a year ago, the other hounds have at least increased their howl going into 2012, Hamilton and Toronto changing head coaches and quarterbacks, presumably for the better.

As John Lennon once said, and as LaPolice keeps telling his players, it’s just like starting over.

“There’s been a lot of changes throughout the course of the CFL, and that’s all to do one thing: to win a championship,” the coach said. “It’s always a hard thing to win championships. We like the direction we’re going. We need to become consistent winners, and that’s what we’re going to plan on this year.”

Nobody will ever mistake the Bombers’ 2011 campaign as consistent.

World beaters through eight games, also-rans down the stretch — but just good enough to win the East, at 10-8, and reach the Grey Cup — Winnipeg was clearly outmatched by the champion B.C. Lions.

This off-season should have been about getting that much better to reach the Lions’ level.

Instead, it seems the Bombers have been treading water, even taking some in, with the loss of key players like Brendon LaBatte, Greg Carr, Doug Brown and Obby Khan to free agency or retirement.

“To get to the next elite level you’ve got to play consistent football,” LaPolice offered, obviously adopting the “C” word as his mantra. “The biggest thing about the B.C. Lions last year, at one point they won 12, 13 games in a row. That’s one of our goals, to be a consistent winner.

“When you can do that, you control your destiny with first place and one game to make it to the Cup.”

But to win that many in a row, you also have to be dominant.

The Bombers came close to that special place, defensively, a year ago. On offence, not so much.

And I don’t see where they’ve improved, talent-wise, on that side of the ball, other than having Chris Garrett at tailback for an entire season.

Of course, that’s what training camp is for, finding out what you’ve got.

Perhaps GM Joe Mack has uncovered the pieces his third-year head coach needs to not only get his team back to the last game, but win it.

They’re on the verge of making history, either way.


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