Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–6–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Burke won't fret about job status

Loyal defenders back interim Bomber boss

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CALGARY -- In all their haste to replace Paul LaPolice with Tim Burke last month, one thing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers brain trust never explained to Burke was what, exactly, he needs to do to get the "interim" removed from his head-coach title at the end of the season.

As hard as it is to believe, Burke said Thursday he still doesn't know the answer to that question -- even now, almost three weeks into the job.

"No, not really -- just that basically (I will) be evaluated at the end of the season," Burke said following a light workout for his club at McMahon Stadium on Thursday in advance of tonight's game against the Calgary Stampeders.

"I would think, you know, if we were to make the playoffs or something like that, I would be seriously considered. I don't know if just improvement would be enough."

Burke is just guessing about that, of course, because that's all he can do in the absence of any clearly defined goals or objectives from his employer. If you've ever been in a job where you don't really know what the boss expects of you, then you know what an uncomfortable way that is to work.

Suffice to say the Bombers brain trust wants Burke to put wins on the board, and that has yet to happen. A 52-0 thrashing in his head-coaching debut in Regina two weeks ago was an unmitigated disaster, and then a narrow loss in the Banjo Bowl last weekend -- in which Burke put the blame directly on himself for a controversial decision to punt late in the game instead of trying for a field goal that would have forced the Roughriders to score a touchdown to win -- didn't do much to pad his resumé either.

And with just about everyone expecting the Bombers to lose against the Stampeders, Burke could be 0-3 as a head coach by day's end.

But does that mean Burke is a lousy head coach? Or is it simply reflective of the gong show he took over from LaPolice?

Detractors of Burke -- and supporters of LaPolice -- will point out the Bombers had a win over Hamilton and a narrow loss to B.C. in LaPolice's final two games and appeared to finally be improving, only to fall off a cliff once Burke took over.

Burke supporters will tell you the supposed improvements in LaPolice's final two games were smoke and mirrors, pointing out Hamilton's defence this season couldn't plug a bathtub and the loss to B.C., while dramatic, was still just that -- a loss.

But whether it's fair or not, what did become clear this week is that Burke isn't going to be getting any help from GM Joe Mack to turn this ship around.

In a week in which there was all kinds of trading activity -- most of it centred around Edmonton and Hamilton -- the Bombers front office was, once again, conspicuous by their silence.

While Edmonton's Eric Tillman and Hamilton's George Cortez both looked to improve their struggling clubs by bringing in new talent via trade -- and Montreal's Jim Popp somehow picked up first- and fourth-round draft picks by shipping off a kicker who wasn't playing anyway -- Mack once again sat on his hands.

If Burke's going to turn this season around, it seems clear the only help he is going to be able to count on is from a fiercely loyal group of players on defence, who make it clear they will walk on glass for the man who was the original architect of Swaggerville.

"He's a great guy. We all trust him, we all love him and we all want the best for him," said linebacker Marcellus Bowman. "What's the best for him is also for the best for us. And we're going to do whatever we can to get him his first win and first game ball."

Defensive lineman Jason Vega, whose three sacks and six tackles in the loss to Saskatchewan last week earned him player of the week honours, says he feels the players have been letting down the coach, not the other way around as Burke portrayed it after the Banjo Bowl loss.

"It's important to us to make sure he looks good, the way he should. And unfortunately, we've been making mistakes these last couple games and everyone points the finger at him because he's the head coach."

If being a stand-up guy with a keen sense of humour and even keener sense of accountability is what the Bombers braintrust wants out of Burke this season, then they can already lift that interim label.

But if it's something more concrete, like wins and at least the start of a turnaround, then the waiting game is still on.

Either way, Burke sounds like he's at peace with it all.

"I'm not really worried about it," Burke said. "We're going to do as good as we can do. And that's all we can do."

Whether that will be good enough remains the unanswered question.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2012 C1

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