Tim Burke got his man. And Casey Creehan couldn’t be happier to be had.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach told reporters in a conference call Thursday morning that he believes the hiring of Creehan as the club’s new defensive coordinator is a big step forward in making the 2013 Bombers defence look a lot more like the fierce league-leading unit that led the CFL in 2011 and less like the anemic bunch that got pushed around for much of 2012.
"I really trust Casey and he trusts me," said Burke. "We have a great working relationship. Obviously we’re friends, but we have a working relationship that spans three different clubs. Casey is a great idea guy and I really value that in him. We have the same defensive philosophy...
"That was important to me. To hire a coordinator who believes in the same style of defence that I believe in."
As the Free Press first reported Wednesday evening, Winnipeg’s former defensive line and linebackers coach will rejoin the Bombers for the 2013 season after a one-year stint as the defensive coordinator for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2012.
Creehan coached in Winnipeg in 2010 and 2011 and is a longtime coaching partner of current Bombers Burke. The two men have also coached together in Calgary and Montreal over the years and have together presided over some of the best defences in the league.
Creehan replaces Burke, who held both the defensive coordinator and head coach position in 2012 after he replaced Paul LaPolice as Bombers head coach when LaPolice was fired in August.
"I’m very excited about the players that are (in Winnipeg) and I’m excited to get back and work with them," said Creehan.
But perhaps more than anything, Creehan sounded excited to be back working with Burke, who has served as a mentor since the two men first worked together in 2005 in Calgary.
"I saw a guy right away who I thought was a great football coach and an even better person," said Creehan. "Me being a young coach at that time -- and I still am to this day -- he was a guy I thought right away if I was lucky enough I could maybe follow in his footsteps throughout the coaching ranks and learn from him.
"And that’s what I’ve been able to do through all these years -- to be around a guy who knows a lot about football who’s been able to teach me but also help me develop as a person overall."
'Stats never tell the whole story'
A native of Pittsburgh, Creehan has a bachelors degree in political science and a masters degree in health and physical education.
Creehan still had a year left in his contract in Hamilton, but he had fallen out of favour after a terrible season that saw the Ticats give up more points than any other team in the league in 2012 and finish dead last in the CFL in 11 of 25 defensive categories.
Despite his failings in Hamilton, Creehan was from the very start Burke’s first choice to replace himself. Burke said the problems in Hamilton had more to do with a myriad of injuries on the Hamilton defence -- especially in the secondary -- than any failing on the part of Creehan.
"Stats never tell the whole story," said Burke.
Creehan made a similar case in his own defence. "The better defences in this league have continuity and consistency and that’s one thing we were unable to get down over there in Hamilton in my short stint there," Creehan said. "We played a lot of different combinations in the secondary and the defensive line due to injuries and rookies and whatever the circumstances might have been.
"There were some things we did really well in spurts in Hamilton, but we were inconsistent."
Creehan respected by players: Johnson
The Bombers defence, of course, was also inconsistent in 2012 and Burke said he thinks the return of Creehan -- who is almost universally adored by the players on the Bombers defence -- should go a long way to reigniting the spark that was missing in 2012.
And if it doesn’t? Burke said he made clear what the consequences will be when he spoke to his defence at the end of the season. "When we come back, we’re going to have that great desire and effort," Burke said he told his players, "or we’re going to make some changes. And that’s just the bottom line."
Cornerback Jovon Johnson said Thursday that he thinks Creehan will help restore the fire in the Bombers defence. "I think just having him back will improve the overall play and the attitude. He just has that kind of leadership and all the players really respect him."
Ticats head coach George Cortez released a statement Thursday morning explaining how the deal went down that brought Creehan to Winnipeg.
"Earlier this week, we granted the Winnipeg Blue Bombers permission to begin discussions with Casey Creehan regarding a vacancy on their coaching staff. Casey has subsequently resigned from his current position and reached an agreement with the Blue Bombers.
"I’d like to thank Casey for his hard work as a member of our team last season. The search for our next defensive coordinator will begin immediately."