Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–6–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Off-field activities played minor role in decision: For Hef, the play's the thing

Burke says he pulled pin due to poor performance

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Jonathan Hefney’s time in Winnipeg has run out, despite some flashes of his old self, such as this pass interruption against Als’ Brandon Whitaker in 2012.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Jonathan Hefney’s time in Winnipeg has run out, despite some flashes of his old self, such as this pass interruption against Als’ Brandon Whitaker in 2012. Photo Store

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke claimed ownership of Saturday's decision to release two-time CFL all-star defensive back Jonathan Hefney.

"Ultimately the decision to release somebody is my decision," Burke said Sunday. "I did it in conjunction with the defensive co-ordinator (Casey Creehan) and the secondary coach (Carl Franks) and when I approached Joe (Mack, Bombers GM) about the decision, he said I'll support you in whatever you want to do.

"So ultimately it's my decision."

Nearly a full day after the announcement, Burke emphasized it was Hefney's play that dictated the outcome.

"The decision to release Jonathan was based on several aspects but primarily it was performance-based," Burke said. "We just didn't feel like he could perform some of the tasks necessary to be a halfback in this league, that fit in with our defence.

"And so that was the biggest factor. We had talked to him about moving to the nickel position this year and he decided he would rather play halfback. We tried to move him to a position that would better suit his talent level and that's the way it goes.

"So I think you'll probably see him get picked up by somebody else. If they utilize him in a different role, he could probably be successful."

Burke declined to be specific about plays or abilities.

"I saw a drop-off in his play last year and then coming into this training-camp session, I felt it dropped off even farther," he said. "It just wasn't as a good as it used to be. Certain responsibilities in our system that a halfback has that he couldn't perform up to the highest standard we need to win with."

The head coach didn't deny other factors -- like Hefney's recent South Carolina charge for possession of a small amount of marijuana -- were on the table.

"When you look at a person, you're looking at everything," he said. "You're looking at his whole body, his whole resum©. But performance is the No. 1 reason. It's by far the No. 1 reason.

"I don't think it distracted the players at all. It probably was more the organization that... when you say things you shouldn't say, it reflects on the organization."

Given his repeated public displeasure about the defensive secondary in recent days and weeks, Burke was asked if it was Hefney he had in mind with those remarks.

"I'll just say that there was more than one person in the secondary that under-performed last year," Burke said.

Later Saturday, Burke said he spoke to the defensive players on the team about the roster move.

"I knew it would affect some of them more than anybody else," Burke said. "There was probably a little bit of shock there."

Impact, certainly but maybe less shock than the coach thought.

"Still doing (this), scratching my head," said linebacker Johnny Sears, at practice this camp for the first time (knee).

"I think we're used to it right now," said receiver Terrence Edwards, also back on the field after being injured (foot). "We had a surprise last year with Clint Kent. We got another surprise this weekend. I think the team was a little shook up last year with Clint, so I think we are more prepared this year for something like this to happen."

It's still a jolt, Edwards suggested.

"It is, when you release a guy who's been an all-star, and not just a teammate, but a friend of mine," he said. "But when you've been in this business as a long as I have, 11 professional years, nothing surprises you.

"We're all sad to see Hef go because he's a great football player and a great guy. But we understand we've got a job to do. We're all sad about it but I know Jonathan would want us to work hard, keep playing and go win football games. That's what we're going to do."

Defensive back Jovon Johnson, another of those close to Hefney, echoed Edwards.

"He (Hefney) was one of our guys," Johnson said. "Everybody's going to be sad about losing one of your guys. He was with us for a while, he's been an all-star for a number of years and he produces a lot on the field. To lose a guy like that, the reaction from the team will be one that everybody in the stands can relate do. At the end of the day, a business is a business and that's just the way it works."

Johnson said Hefney is "really hurt" by the decision.

"When you're around the team for a number of years and you have to lose that for whatever reasons, it definitely hurts and he was definitely hurt by it," Johnson said. "I think he was more at a loss for words as to why it happened to him.

"I'm sure he'll bounce back and resurface soon and hopefully he'll go out and perform like we know he can."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2013 C3

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