What denying Paul LaPolice’s interview with the Riders means for the Bombers

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers denied the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ request to interview offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice for the club’s vacant head coaching position, as reported by TSN’s Dave Naylor on Sunday afternoon.

The report came one day after the Riders were denied permission by the Ottawa Redblacks to interview offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo. Santino Filoso, our resident Redblacks scribe, felt the club was justified in denying permission, while Josh Smith felt the club should have let Elizondo interview.

I took to twitter on Sunday afternoon to see how fans around the league felt about the Bombers denying LaPolice a chance to earn his second CFL head coaching opportunity.

The results of the poll currently indicate a strong sense that what the Bombers did was justified — though, to be fair, my twitter following includes more Bomber fans than Rider fans.

Several fans asked about LaPolice’s feelings about the Rider position in their replies to the poll. If LaPo didn’t want the job, they said, the Bombers did the 48-year-old assistant a favour in denying permission for an interview.

Only LaPolice wanted it. Badly.

As first reported by TSN’s Farhan Lalji, LaPolice is “very upset” about not being allowed to interview in Saskatchewan. The New Hampshire native has been searching for a second opportunity to serve as a CFL head coach since he was fired by Joe Mack and the Bombers midway through the 2012 season.

The irony of LaPolice now being forced to stay in Winnipeg — not seven years after being let go by Winnipeg — doesn’t end there.

LaPolice was originally hired as Winnipeg’s head coach following a two-year stint as the offensive coordinator of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Bombers didn’t finalize the hiring of LaPolice until February 4 back in 2010, two weeks later than Winnipeg denied permission to interview him this year.

In the Bombers’ defence, the CFL coaching carousel has spun progressively faster with each successive off-season. Coaches used to go fishing for jobs at the Senior Bowl — an event that doesn’t take place until next weekend — which is now considered very late in the hiring season. Teams need to be ready for the season to start in mid-June, while it used to begin in early July.

There’s also the new non-player spending cap to consider. Winnipeg, like all CFL teams, is working to finalize coaching expenses ahead of the 2019 season. The departure of LaPolice, one of the league’s highest-paid assistants, would throw a wrench into the team’s salary structure.

It’s also worth noting that LaPolice withdrew his name from the Argonauts’ head coaching search in early December. One of the main reasons cited in the report was the need for LaPolice to retain a number of assistant coaches already on staff.

This would also be a problem for LaPolice in Saskatchewan, where Chris Jones’ hand-picked assistants are all under contract through 2019. The difference is that LaPolice has a strong relationship with Jeremy O’Day in Saskatchewan, while the city of Regina is a better fit for him and his family than Toronto.

The question now becomes whether or not the relationship between LaPolice and the Bombers can be mended ahead of the 2019 season.

With Chris Jones departing for the NFL and Bo Levi Mitchell likely to follow suit, the CFL’s West Division is wide open for the first time in years. Winnipeg has stability at the quarterback position, a number of key free agents signed to extensions, and two first-round picks in May’s draft.

One could argue that the Bombers are the early favourite to win the West in 2019.

But angry employees tend not to be great employees. And hanging onto an angry LaPolice may prove worse than allowing the veteran coach to depart for a head coaching job elsewhere.

Even on in Saskatchewan.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.