Blue Bombers axe GM Joe Mack, CEO Buchko resigns

Garth Buchko has stepped down as CEO of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and the team has fired general manager Joe Mack.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' CEO Garth Buchko has stepped down and the team has fired GM Joe Mack. 2:08

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' CEO Garth Buchko has stepped down and the team has fired GM Joe Mack.

Garth Buchko resigned Friday as Blue Bombers CEO. (CBC)

The announcements were made by the club at a press conference Friday.

"Today, we embark on major changes to the Blue Bomber hierarchy," said club spokesperson Darren Cameron.

The team said Buchko and the club's board of directors mutually decided he should leave.

Former player Wade Miller, who immediately took over as acting CEO, made the firing of Mack his first order of business.

"A GM has the responsibility to win football games. Under Joe Mack, the record speaks for itself," Miller said. "We're going to make things right on the field."

He added, "Job one for me is football and all the hard work that will be required to strengthen our reputation and turn this organization into a competitive force whose traditions have long been such a critical part of the fabric of our community."

It wasn't immediately clear who would take on the GM duties.

The organization has been under fire lately from fans, with many demanding Mack be axed.

According to a report in the Winnipeg Free Press, Buchko earlier this week advised the team's board of directors to fire Mack.

The embattled GM has been at the helm since 2010, pulling in a 21-39 record in that time.

While his firing wasn't a surprise, Buchko's departure was unexpected. He was only named president and CEO of the football club in January 2012.

"We are empowering Wade to do what he does best and that’s to roll up his sleeves, motivate people and effect positive change that will move the Winnipeg Football Club in a new direction," said board chair Brock Bulbuck.

"With his record of success in business, football and the community, the board is confident that Miller has the right combination of experience to lead the club positively forward into the future."

Bulbuck also told reporters he intends to find out where that leak to the Free Press came from, calling it "abhorrent" and saying the club will not tolerate that kind of disloyalty.

"We may never know the source of the leak but we will absolutely take immediate and drastic action should we ever determine where information like that is getting out," he said.

Bombers' woes go way back

The Bombers currently sit last in the CFL's East Division with a 1-5 record. They have yet to post a win in their new stadium, Investors Group Field.

In the past 20 years, the Bombers have only had seven seasons where their record was above .500.

Mack rejoined the Bombers with a solid football resume, including being the player-personnel director of Winnipeg's '84 Grey Cup-winning team.

He also has a Super Bowl ring earned with the 1992 Washington Redskins.

Mack left Winnipeg in '87 to become a scout with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons before becoming Washington's personnel director. He also spent time with the Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns.

But he didn't enjoy immediate success upon his return to Winnipeg. The Bombers were a dismal 4-14 in his first year, but the club did finish atop the East Division in 2011 with a 10-8 record and reached the Grey Cup.

They lost the big game 34-23 to the B.C. Lions, then started the 2012 campaign by losing their first four games and finishing 6-12.

Mack was next

Mack fired Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice following the club's 2-6 start last year. But the general consensus following that move was if the club continued to struggle Mack would be the next to go.

Mack's most questionable decision was to stick with veteran Buck Pierce at quarterback. When healthy, Pierce has shown he can lead the Bombers offence.

Trouble is, injuries have plagued Pierce since he joined the Bombers in 2010. Yet this off-season, the Bombers decided to stick with Pierce.

However, he is now the club's No. 3 quarterback behind new starter Justin Goltz and first-year CFL player Max Hall.

Goltz is 0-2 in his first two CFL starts.

Winnipeg-born Miller, who retired from the Blue Bombers in 2006, was a fullback who appeared in 159 regular season games and eight playoff matches.

He was a fourth-round selection (37th overall) of the Blue Bombers in the 1995 Canadian College Draft, becoming the second member of his family to play for the team.

His father, Al, played from 1965 until 1967 after a stint with the Washington Redskins in the NFL.

Changes will make a difference, says ex-Bomber

Obby Khan, a former Bombers offensive lineman, said the changes will likely result in players playing harder on the field.

"They have to play harder because now they know that hey, whatever relationship you had with the other general manager, whatever relationship you had with the president, means zero now," Khan told CBC News.

"Everyone's got to reprove themselves to Wade and the new group that's in there."

Khan said he believes Miller is the right man to get the Bombers back on track.

"He is a no-BS, all-action kind of guy. He's going to move the club forward, he's going to move it forward fast, and he's what I think this club needs," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press