Blue Bombers GM Joe Mack feels the heatDecision to let Hodgkinson go shows Mack knows things have to change
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
|Blue Bombers general manager Joe Mack speaks to the media at Canad Inns Stadium in Winnipeg, Man., Nov. 1, 2012. (JASON HALSTEAD/QMI Agency)
WINNIPEG - Perhaps it's the beginning of the new Joe Mack era.
You know, the one where he's feeling the heat a little bit, and changes his act accordingly.
I say this because the reclusive general manager of the Blue Bombers actually surfaced, Tuesday, to answer a few questions.
The topic: the firing of assistant GM Ross Hodgkinson, a loyal, longtime team employee who did most of his work behind the scenes.
Technically, the Bombers didn't renew his contract. That's semantics.
When you've been around as long as Hodgkinson, it's a firing.
People like Hodgkinson are invaluable to an organization. Not only did he put together training camps and team travel, he handled a good portion of contract negotiations and helped navigate the salary cap.
He was also the team troubleshooter. If a player got in trouble down in the U.S., Hodgkinson was the guy to sort through the red tape of getting him back across the border.
So what did he do to lose his job?
Not a thing.
"Management decided to go in a different direction," Mack told me. "It's pretty self-explanatory."
Actually, it's not.
Hodgkinson had as much to do with Winnipeg's 6-12 record as the night security guy with the huge German shepherd.
To Mack's credit, he dismissed the notion Hodgkinson is a scapegoat for the Bombers horrible season, taking full responsibility for it himself.
"You can't lay that at Ross at all," Mack said. "The person that has to stand up for this season... is me."
Mack wouldn't say it, but this move is all about his own shortcomings, and finding a way to back fill.
Three years ago, on the heels of the public relations disaster that was the Mike Kelly regime, the board of directors hired Mack to repair the damage.
You'll recall there was as much talk about conducting business in a professional manner as there was about fielding a winner.
Part of that was about rebuilding bridges in the community.
Mack, confined to his film room, has failed to deliver on that front. The man has no interest in being the face of the franchise, aside from the occasional appearance at practice and a hello to fans in the stands.
With the winning part of Mack's mandate sliding, too, board members and president/CEO Garth Buchko have finally stepped in.
Mack has been told to hire an assistant who can learn on the job and perhaps take over as the GM, eventually. The board doesn't want to be in a position like it was at the end of 2009, caught having to search for a new GM from outside.
They want a plug-in ready to go.
In the meantime, the new guy will be media friendly and highly visible.
And, according to Mack, adept at scouting Canadian players.
Hodgkinson wasn't seen as the guy, possibly because of his gruff exterior. His friendship with former CEO Lyle Bauer probably doesn't sit well with some board members, either.
As for Mack's role in this new front office, he says it's not changing. No additional duties, none taken away.
He hasn't changed his philosophy going into the off-season, either.
That means we can expect the Bombers to once again play a limited role in free agency.
"In general terms, I don't necessarily see it to be that productive," Mack said of chasing high-profile free agents. "I would challenge anybody to find a free agent or two that made a quantitative difference in a team's record. I would prefer to take care of players we have and feel good about, and take care of their salaries."
He didn't rule out making an exception, though.
"My gut feeling right now is with the exception of quarterback, we'd be hesitant."
And there's your single biggest change in Joe Mack over the last 12 months.
He may not live here most of the winter, but he's finally feeling the heat.