Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Burke won't tolerate players' excuses for 2-7 record

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If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and being surprised by the same result, then Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke had to do something dramatic this week.

And so it was no surprise when Burke delivered just that on Wednesday, revealing that veteran cornerback Jovon Johnson -- who made CFL history in 2011 when he became the first defensive back to ever be named the league's Most Outstanding Defensive Player -- is now a linebacker.

What did come as a bit of a shock was that Burke revealed his team's 2-7 record and epic 52-0 defeat last Sunday in Regina that led to Wednesday's dramatic personnel move is perhaps the least of his problems right now.

Because it turns out Burke has what sounds like a small insurrection on his hands in the Bombers locker-room.

"I talked to the team about we've got to get rid of the negative atmosphere here," Burke told reporters after the team held it's first full practice this week in preparation for Sunday's Banjo Bowl rematch with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

"Whether there's some carry-over from Paul being dismissed or whether it's the four road games in a row or the stadium -- whatever the negativity is, we've got to get over that and move on to the positives and feel good about ourselves. And go out there and feed on each other's energy."

Burke's comments are the first time anyone in Bombers management, including former head coach Paul LaPolice, has suggested delays in getting the team into its new stadium this season and the four-game road trip to start the year that was precipitated by those delays may have created some hard feelings within the team and had a negative impact on the field.

"What would it have been like," Burke wondered when he was further pressed on the issue by reporters, "if, OK, we had come home after four games to this brand-new stadium and maybe there might have been some energy from that -- who knows?" said Burke. "It's hard to tell."

That was, of course, precisely the revised plan Bombers management had in mind when they agreed last winter to a month on the road to open the 2012 season, only to announce later even that wasn't going to help and the entire 2012 season was going to have to be played at the derelict Canad Inns Stadium.

Burke was asked directly on Wednesday if players had been openly complaining about some of the organization's myriad failings off the field this season.

"I think so, a little bit," Burke replied. "I just told them -- that's got to stop. And it's up to your teammates to hold you to that standard that we're not going to do that kind of stuff. I challenged the leadership to take charge of that and nip it in the bud. If there ever is any more, let's get it out. And then I'm going to handle it if it gets to me."

So how will you handle it, Burke was asked. The head coach spent a few moments searching for an answer, although it wasn't clear if it was because he didn't immediately have one or because he wanted to be careful how he framed it. In the end, he went with: "I have my ways."

He'd better. Burke was promoted to replace LaPolice in part because he promised to bring a new accountability to a team that had very little of it in the previous feel-good regime.

In a season in which his team generally -- and his defence in particular -- have played soft, it's looking increasingly like Burke is going to have to start cracking some heads before his players ever do.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 6, 2012 C3

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