Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Burke's Blue might just put it all together in 2013

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Let's be honest. When it comes to reaping rewards from first-year head coaches, the local football team has been about as successful as their attempts at grooming their own rookie pivots.

Not very.

Yet, if there was ever a year when both of these things might change, 2013 could be the season when the improbable becomes probable.

We have already heard rave reviews on how quarterbacks Max Hall and Chase Clement performed in rookie camp, and some people saw enough in a glimpse of Goltz last season to anoint him the second coming of Colin Kaepernick.

Of course, nobody ever got two points in the regular season for looking good in mini-camp, but so far so good. Which brings us to the other part of the equation -- the head coach.

In the last 17 years, the Bombers have had exactly one head coach with previous, professional, head coaching experience -- Dave Ritchie.

Well that's not entirely true. Jim Daley was a head coach in Saskatchewan for a couple of years, but his appointments were six years apart, and he didn't exactly fare any better than the other first-year charges that have since come and gone.

Since Jeff Reinebold took over from Cal Murphy in 1997, Tim Burke is now the fifth head coach to take control of this roster and cut his baby teeth on it.

Call it a coincidence, or call it causation, but the Bombers also haven't won a Grey Cup for any of those 17 years, plus the five before that, and the closest they came was under the guidance of Ritchie.

I've never experienced the jump from being a co-ordinator or assistant head coach to the leader of a team, but I imagine it isn't much easier than the transition from college to the professional ranks -- which is undisputedly the hardest thing you experience in pro ball.

The average tenure of these rookie head coaches in Winnipeg the last 17 seasons has been just more than two years, which is far shorter than even the average career of a player.

I'm not saying the dismissals of any of those coaches that have come and gone were necessarily premature, or that any of them were on the brink of leading us to the promised land, but two years isn't exactly tapping out anyone's full potential.

So why might Tim Burke be the exception to the rule, and escape the same fate as his freshman brethren? For no other reason than the fact he is a lot like Ritchie and fits the identity and culture of this football team.

Out of all the new head coaches in the last 17 years, save for Reinebold whom I never worked under, they were all offensive-minded guys.

If we examine Winnipeg's successes as a football club, historically, it's been as a tough, physical, defensive-minded club -- just like the people that support it.

I still remember when Doug Berry took over this team and kicked the defence out of all the premier meeting rooms and stuffed us in the leaking dungeon in the bowel of the stadium. It just didn't feel right.

The personality of this team has been offensive -- both literally and figuratively -- since 2006, and this will be the first full season of the return to a snot bubbling attitude for close to a decade.

It has been written in these inches that Ritchie was the author of the three most successful seasons this club had in the last 17 years because of his ability to be a tyrant, a tough guy and tender all at once. He spoke in riddles and foreign tongues, which only endeared people to him more. He was one of those coaches that you wanted to make proud of on the football field, because he appreciated it like no other.

Burke is a lot like Ritchie in the sense his players have immense respect for him, and he suffers no fools.

He is a blue-collar guy that brings his lunch box to work everyday, and is twice as physical as he is finesse. He doesn't make excuses, and he holds himself accountable for his mistakes.

Ritchie and Burke are both genuine people whose personalities don't clash with the culture of the organization, the media, or the community, and people want to see them succeed.

The 2013 season just might be the year where for the first time in a long time, one of them actually does.


Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2013 D4

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