Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Congratulations, coach

This first win looked good on you Mr. Burke -- now do it again

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Tim BURKE should never have taken this job. He might as well have asked the executioner for a cyanide-laced cigarette and skipped right past the lethal injection.

You get the point -- coaching this version of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is akin to career suicide.

But Burke is a football man through and through and a good soldier to the end. He's a coach. Give him a defence and he'll coach it. Ask him to head up the squad, despite having no time to prepare for the challenge and inheriting the messiest roster and locker-room in the CFL, and he'll do it. It's who he is. And it may be the reason he's the leader these Blue Bombers need.

Friday night, after three disastrous efforts, Burke got his first win as the head coach of the Blue Bombers. Give him his due because Lord knows he deserves it.

From a Labour Day beating to a Banjo Bowl pasting to last week's catastrophe in Calgary, Burke has remained resolute and pushed and prodded his men to be better.

Sure, the Tiger-Cats suck and will battle the Bombers to the bitter end for the Basement Bowl, but a win is always an accomplishment in pro football. Both sides get paid to play. The expression "on any given Sunday," may be cliché, but it's still true.

Where the Bombers go from here remains to be seen and whether Burke deserves a chance next season is also still open for debate. But don't write him off yet. And consider the magnitude of the job when judging his effort.

The Bombers have a flawed roster, short on experience and leadership, and Burke must find a way each week to get the most out of his team to earn wins. Not to mention he's got a patchwork coaching staff under him and is forced to do too much during the week of practice and juggle too many duties on game day. He's undermanned in both playing personnel and in football operations.

Burke remains the defensive co-ordinator and while lots of coaches have double duty most are prepared for the situation and don't take it on mid-season. Burke is learning on the job -- with a roster that doesn't make it easy.

The Bombers are immature and their rookie head coach has taken the approach of holding them accountable and relieving them of the excuse of youth.

Burke has been honest and candid in his assessments of his own work and his team's. He's bright and hardworking and easy to like. He got the water bucket shower on the sidelines following his first win and then jogged to mid-field to shake counterpart George Cortez's hand.

It was a nice moment for Burke, but not one he can afford to relish for long. The Bombers host the Toronto Argonauts next week in another divisional matchup.

The playoffs can't be much of a consideration for a 3-9 football team, but with every win Burke gets he makes a case for himself to be brought back as head coach next season.

There hasn't been much to cheer about with these Bombers this season but Burke has an intangible that makes one wonder if there isn't greatness under the hoodie he wears so often.

Development takes time. Burke needs to make a case that he's worth sticking with to see where this path can lead. Wins are the most obvious indicator but there are others -- such as effort and buy-in from players. It's getting better in Bomberland right now. How far it goes will be worth watching.

The beer likely tasted better on Friday night. A first win is a big deal.

So, congratulations, Tim.

Now do it again. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2012 C3

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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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