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Bombers axe Gary Crowton, elevate Marcel Bellefeuille to OC, continue dysfunctional ways

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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Winnipeg offensive coordinator Gary Crowton has been fired.

It's another day, another firing in Winnipeg, and in line with past events, what's curious isn't the team's decision to get rid of offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, but the timing and procedure they used to do so. Crowton was an unusual hire for the Bombers back in the 2012 offseason considering his lack of CFL experience and his mixed results from south of the border, and calls for his head have been frequent given Winnipeg's offensive struggles over the last two seasons, so it's not exactly surprising that he was shown the door, especially given all the team's recent purges. It is interesting that they fired him a week after the majority of their other changes (including switching starting quarterbacks to CFL rookie Max Hall, which went as well as expected in Friday's 37-18 loss to Hamilton), though, and that they've replaced him with Marcel Bellefeuille, who held the ill-defined "offensive consultant" role for a grand total of one week. The end result here might work out for the Bombers, but the way they got to it isn't going to improve the appearance of an organization in turmoil.

It's not that Crowton necessarily deserved more time. His offensive scheme pretty clearly wasn't working in the CFL, as demonstrated by the team's performance last season and this season thus far. Last year, the Blue Bombers turned in the league's worst performance across a variety of offensive categories, including points per game (20.9), touchdowns (33), offensive yards per game (337.2), passing first downs (188), yards per pass (7.3) and completion percentage (58.8 per cent). Sure, some of that was thanks to constant changes in leadership (the team fired head coach Paul LaPolice partway through the season and replaced him with defensive coordinator Tim Burke) and a revolving door at quarterback (Buck Pierce started when healthy, but often wasn't healthy, leading to Alex Brink and Joey Elliott both seeing significant playing time), but it doesn't speak well for Crowton.

This year saw a similar trend, too. Heading into this week's games, the Bombers were averaging just 22.5 points per game (tied for third-worst in the CFL) and bringing up the rear in plenty of crucial offensive categories, including passing first downs (49), passing touchdowns (4), gain per rush (4.7 yards) and passes intercepted (8). They were also second-worst in yards of offence per game (285.2), first downs (99), yards per pass (7.1), passing yards per game (220.2), completion percentage (58.9 per cent) and sacks conceded (21). Again, that's not all on Crowton: former general manager Joe Mack didn't exactly supply the team with masses of offensive talent, the constant organizational upheaval hasn't provided a good working environment, and the team's shifted directions several times this year, going from Buck Pierce to Justin Goltz to Hall at quarterback.

Crowton played his own part in each of those problems, though. He didn't come up with a scheme to really take advantage of the talents of the players he did have, the team's offensive struggles on his watch were a large part of the reason for the constant organizational upheaval, and the bizarre decision to start the new-to-the-CFL Hall was labeled as his by head coach Tim Burke. Burke still bears responsibility for approving that plan and for not getting Crowton to adapt his offensive ideas to the CFL more, but there isn't a lot of evidence to suggest Crowton deserved to be retained.

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Former Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille is the new Bombers' offensive coordinator.

The move to Bellefeuille may pay off as well. Bellefeuille led several very successful CFL offences in Hamilton and Montreal, and he was particularly good at utilizing his running backs, something Crowton struggled with. The Bombers were happy to run in Crowton's offence, but they rarely ran effectively, being content to plunge into the line for a few yards time after time instead of going for bigger, more useful gains. Bellefeuille has plenty of CFL experience as both a head coach and an offensive coordinator, and he's a smart guy who should make the Winnipeg offence better. However, the Bombers could have hired him as OC two years ago after Hamilton fired him as head coach, and they chose to go with Crowton instead then.

It would have made more sense to tab Bellefeuille as offensive coordinator during this offseason, too, as he wasn't doing anything. Even last week, it would have been more logical to fire Crowton and bring in Bellefeuille as OC instead of hiring him in the "consultant" role and presenting a confusing offensive leadership structure. Logic doesn't seem to have a strong role in how things are done in Winnipeg these days, though. The Bombers may have achieved a useful end result with the firing of Crowton and the elevation of Bellefeuille, but the way they went about it isn't exactly going to change the minds of those who find their organizational dysfunctional. There are still lots of problems in Winnipeg, and they go beyond who's calling the plays.

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