Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue want Burke back

Plan to make him full-time head coach

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It looks like Tim Burke will be knocking the "interim" off his title.

Sources within the Winnipeg Blue Bombers organization say CEO Garth Buchko has become Burke's greatest champion and that his return as head coach is almost automatic. Talks are already underway.

An announcement is not imminent but the club expects to make one by season's end. The outcome of the Bombers' final two games are not a factor at this stage.

Burke, named interim head coach after Paul LaPolice was fired in August, is 3-5 since taking over and has impressed upper management on a number of fronts.

Throw out his last-minute brain cramp against the Saskatchewan Roughriders that resulted in an entirely avoidable Banjo Bowl loss and Burke would be 4-4 with two games to go on the schedule.

The Bombers were dead in the water at 2-6 when Burke took over and while it took him some time to get his bearings, he's done more than could have reasonably been expected.

Winnipeg might not qualify for the post-season, but Burke has put them in a position to keep swinging.

The Bombers are 3-1 in the East since Sept. 21, taking some of the sting out of their overall 5-11 record.

The thinking upstairs revolves around what Burke could do with a full coaching staff, an entire off-season to prepare and more input into the roster.

Burke has played the good soldier, but made it clear to GM Joe Mack he'd like more players that reflect his approach. Maybe an offensive lineman that is hated around the league, or a defender that every team must be aware of at all times.

The key factors he is being judged on are his ability to get the players to compete hard and follow his directions.

The long-time defensive co-ordinator has established a culture of accountability within the locker-room that seemed lacking under LaPolice. In short, Burke has established law and order within the Bombers compound and he is the jury, judge and executioner. There is no waffling and no mistake about who is in charge. Players who openly grumbled during LaPolice's tenure have grown silent. There is no clubhouse lawyering under Burke.

There's no question Burke possesses a top football mind, as his two Grey Cups with the Montreal Alouettes can attest. Als head coach Marc Trestman left Burke alone to run the defence and the results spoke for themselves.

All of which opens the door to questions about the future of the much-maligned Mack. Just a few weeks ago the club was preparing to move on without him, but their stance has softened, thanks in no small part to their escalating opinion of Burke.

If Mack is retained, however, the club will add another top football operations man with an eye to a two-year plan to succeed Mack. Buchko wants a GM that lives in the community year-round and is a fixture on the Canadian football scene.

The new man will begin with a focus on Canadian talent and become the face of the organization at off-season activities.

Mack will have to agree to co-operate under such a scenario, but will most likely be amenable. He is a committed family man with a wife and children in North Carolina. That's not going to change, so adding a Winnipeg-based presence is essential.

Mack's abilities in the film room and as a personnel man stand on their own, but his overall record of 19-33 has drawn the ire of fans and concern within the organization. He has increasingly become viewed within the organization as a personnel man, but not a GM.

Buchko is on the verge of tabling a "best practices," study that compares the Bombers football department with those of other CFL teams as well as NFL organizations.

Buchko is on record as saying the organization needs more personnel in football operations. Twitter: @garylawless

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 22, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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