Bombers GM: Fragile emotions to blame
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - One player says pointing to the death of assistant coach Richard Harris more than a year ago as a factor in the Blue Bombers play this season is a "cop-out."
Another says those making that suggestion "don't know what they're talking about."
Neither player realized it was their own general manager making the connection.
Bombers GM Joe Mack, in his first comments since Sunday's 52-0 loss in Regina, said Thursday the team's fragile psyche is one of the reasons for its poor performance.
And he pointed to the death of Harris last July as still having an effect.
"We've had a fairly rough year for the psyche of the team," Mack said. "It started with the death of coach Richard Harris. I knew that would have a big impact on our players. As I reflect back.... it had a much bigger effect on the psyche of the team than I even realized. And there were other things that maybe compounded that. There were things beyond the team's control."
Mack pointed to the stadium delay and starting the season with four games on the road, plus injuries, as examples.
But when pressed about Harris's passing still affecting the team -- he died of heart attack in July, 2011 -- Mack didn't waver.
"It had residual effects. There were emotional feelings that some of the players were still dealing with."
Some of the veterans beg to differ.
"Obviously we miss coach Harris every day," O-lineman Glenn January said. "But putting something like that on our performance is a cop-out. We're responsible for what we do. And the emotional hangover, I mean in life you have to deal with all sorts of struggles and you try to move on as best you can.
"But we've just go to play better. You can't look for cop-outs like that."
Jovon Johnson agreed, and he was one of the players closest to the late defensive assistant.
"A lot of people within the organization still feel the pain of his family and what he meant to us as a coach," Johnson said. "But I don't think people are still lingering over the passion of coach Harris. It's not emotionally attached to this season. We've moved on. Because in this business you have to."
And anyone who'd lean on that as an explanation for the 2-7 record and lopsided score last week?
"I'd say they don't know what they're talking about," Johnson said. "It had nothing to do with the passing of Coach Harris or the emotions of the passing of coach Harris. It was more what they did to us and what we didn't do to defend ourselves."
The Bombers recovered enough from the shock of the tragedy to reach the Grey Cup last year, defeating Hamilton in an emotionally-charged East Final.
But Mack says the team's catharsis might have come last week in Saskatchewan -- in a 52-point embarrassment that was the low point in his regime.
"I'm hoping that although last weeks' game was painful, that it was maybe somewhat cathartic for our team and they were able to let some of those emotions out," he said. "And that they'll come back and play refreshed this week."
As for the team's collapse coming in the first game after his firing of head coach Paul LaPolice, Mack didn't agree there was a connection.
"I don't know if that necessarily says anything about my command of the situation," he said. "If you check the record, there have been Grey Cup champions who have had that type of game during the Grey Cup champion season. In the CFL sometimes that happens."
Mack also addressed the fact there are thousands of fans calling for his firing.
"I understand that you're disappointed, so am I," he said. "And frustrated. So am I. That's something I can't control.... I really don't worry about that, to be honest with you."
Asked how much time a CFL GM should get to show his true colours --
Mack's record is 17-30 over two and a half seasons -- Mack said he wasn't sure there was a time frame on that, pointing out his team did finish first in the East last season, recently sold out nine straight games and made a multi-million-dollar profit last season.
Describing his restocking of the roster as a success and lauding his improvement in finding Canadian talent, Mack, when pressed, did accept final responsibility for the overall won-loss record.
"I'm the general manager, so it's going to fall on me. If we don't get better, obviously the board will have to make some decisions."
Describing the team as a family, Mack had a final word of advice for fans.
"If your teammate or your family member is maybe struggling, what you may want to think about doing is maybe try to support them and give them a little bit of patience, and even a little bit of love," he said. "Because that's what family members and teammates do.