Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–7–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

His blood runs grey

Bombers defensive boss Burke is in his fourth, and counting, Grey Cup

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VANCOUVER -- Two things that are true: They play the Grey Cup every year. And every year, Tim Burke is in it.

Two things that are unknown: Who is this Burke guy, anyway? And how is it that for the fourth straight season, Burke will be one of two defensive co-ordinators in the big game this Sunday when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers take on the B.C. Lions in the 99th renewal of the Grey Cup.

Let's deal with the second question first -- because the answer to that also tells you a lot about the first question.

For the three years before this one, Burke was the defensive co-ordinator of the Montreal Alouettes juggernaut that played in each of the last three league finals, winning the last two. So maybe he was just in the right place at the right time, you're thinking?

Maybe. But then last winter, Burke moved his operation to Winnipeg, home of the saddest sad sacks in the CFL last season. And the result? A good Bombers defence in 2010 is suddenly an almost unbelievable defence this season and, you guessed it, Burke is back in the Grey Cup once again.

Coincidence? "He brought his teachings and defensive philosophies to a team that was worst in the CFL," Bombers tackle Doug Brown said on the field at BC Place on Friday, "and here (he is) again. That's not a coincidence at all."

So what makes Burke so special? The man who gave him his first job in the CFL offered this answer on the topic this week.

"I was getting some calls from my friends at the United States Military Academy because I had coached at Army previously," recalled former Calgary Stampeders defensive co-ordinator Denny Creehan. "And they told me about this guy Tim Burke, who was a really, really good secondary coach and he was looking for a job... Everybody said he was a good guy, so that wasn't an issue. We just wanted to see if he could coach secondary play.

"We wanted to know if he was a good teacher. And he did a great job with it, obviously."

And he still does. Burke had worked in the American college ranks for 28 years before the Stamps gave him his first job in pro football in 2005 as their defensive backs coach and his teaching abilities have only become more refined ever since.

First he got their attention, says Bombers safety Ian Logan. And the rest came after that.

"He started out as a bit of a hard-ass in training camp -- spring to the ball, do what you need to do," Logan recalled on Friday. "And that carries the whole season. He developed a respect between him and the players. And now that's come and he can loosen up and now become friends at the same time. He's got a perfect mix of both."

 

Creehan says the dominating defence Burke has created this season is the result of a synergy between Burke and Creehan's son, Bombers linebackers and defensive line coach Casey Creehan.

"I think right now Casey teaches pass rush better than anybody in the CFL, and probably better than a lot of NFL coaches, too. And I think Tim teaches man-coverage technique better than any secondary coach in the CFL. You put the two of those together and you have pretty good lockdown coverage and pretty good pressure coming up the field, and you can do that with four guys and not have to blitz," says Creehan.

"That's a pretty dangerous combination, and if there's no place to throw the ball and the quarterback's got to hold it, you're going to get some smacks on him, and that's exactly what's happened. Those two together make an outstanding team."

Casey Creehan says Burke's strength is he is a student as well as teacher. "The biggest thing about Tim is that he's not a guy who feels that he has all the answers, even though he does have a lot of them. He's a guy who's going to study and who's always going to be trying to perfect his craft."

He's come pretty close to perfecting it this year. Maybe too close, if you're a Bombers fan. Because if the Bombers find a way to contain the high-octane BC offence on Sunday, Burke will have won his third Grey Cup in a row and instantly become -- at the age of 57 -- the hottest head coach prospect in the CFL right now.

Right now, Saskatchewan has the only head coach job available and they haven't yet asked to interview Burke. And there's a good chance the Riders won't, having been crucified by their fans already this season after they fired the last two former Bombers coaches they hired, field boss Greg Marshall and offensive coordinator Doug Berry.

But there could be head coach jobs also coming available in Toronto and Hamilton -- and maybe even BC, judging by how Lions GM and head coach Wally Buono was talking this week about maybe not wanting to do both jobs beyond this season.

Burke made no secret when he came to Winnipeg that he did so because he didn't think he could ever advance his career in Montreal in the shadow of Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich. And he says he'd be eager to listen to head coaching offers if they come up this winter.

"We'll find out if people think I'm worthy of being a head coach," says Burke, who's never had the top job at any level and would become a 58-year-old rookie head coach if he does get a job somewhere next season. "It is one of my goals to be a head coach, so if that opportunity arises I will definitely talk to those people."

You cannot help but think someone is going to want to talk to the man with an all-access pass to the Grey Cup.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2011 C1

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Updated on Saturday, November 26, 2011 at 9:50 AM CST: Adds links, fact box

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