Tim Burke became arguably the busiest man in Winnipeg on Sunday.
Burke arrived at Canad Inns Stadium Sunday for his first full day as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, one day after former field boss Paul LaPolice was sacked following a 20-17 loss to the B.C. Lions Friday night that dropped Winnipeg's season record to a league-worst 2-6.
It is the first head-coaching position at any level of football for the 58-year-old Burke, but his challenges don't end there. In addition to taking over the head-coaching duties as the club prepares to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders Sunday in Regina, Burke will also remain both the team's defensive co-ordinator and secondary coach.
And yet for all his new responsibilities, Free Press lead football writer Paul Wiecek found Burke to be relaxed and philosophical when the two men talked Sunday afternoon about the man behind the coach in an exclusive one-on-one interview, Burke's first since taking over for LaPolice.
The following is a slightly condensed and edited transcript of their conversation:
WIECEK: So, how are you? Is it overwhelming?
BURKE: "No, not so far. I'm just basically working on how we're going to try and structure practices. And then I've been also trying to do my defensive diligence for Saskatchewan. But really, that's been about it so far."
WIECEK: The perception of you is as a hard-ass, old-school football type. Does that sum it up, or is it more nuanced than that?
BURKE: "That paints you as kind of Patton-like, or something like that. I believe in being straightforward and having discipline and demanding a lot out of the players, just like I demand a lot out of myself. I like to mix in a little humour with it, though, to keep it light.
"I don't know if it's old school or whatever. But that's just the way I was brought up in the coaching profession. And, you know, I think we all need to be accountable for our actions, players and coaches. I try to hold myself to a high standard and I try to hold everyone else to a high standard as well."
WIECEK: Were you raised that way yourself growing up in Cedar Rapids? Was your old man like that?
BURKE: "Yeah, he was. He was an Irish Catholic bricklayer. (laughs) I went to Catholic school for awhile too, so there was a little bit of discipline there, too."
WIECEK: You have two sons yourself, right?
BURKE: "Yeah, my oldest son is Kelly and he's a sergeant in the (U.S.) Air Force. He works in the intelligence field."
WIECEK: Is he overseas?
BURKE: "No, he was in Afghanistan last year. He's back in the States now...He's 26. And my youngest son is Evan, he's 23 and he's going to be a fifth-year senior at Temple University. He's a gymnast -- he's the captain of the gymnastics team."
WIECEK: How did that go over with you -- the son of a football coach is a gymnast?
BURKE: "It was fine."
WIECEK: Did you play football yourself?
BURKE: "Yeah, I played through college (at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa)."
BURKE: "No, I was a running back."
WIECEK: An undersized running back?
BURKE: "Crappy one, too."
WIECEK: So how'd you make the transition to coaching?
BURKE: "I knew that's what I wanted to do. When I was still in my senior year in college, I applied to something like 65 schools to be a graduate assistant. And I got on at the University of Minnesota."
WIECEK: In addition to Minnesota, you were also an assistant at one point at UND in Grand Forks. Had you been to Winnipeg prior to breaking into the CFL?
BURKE: "Yeah, when I was at UND we came up and visited the Bombers on two different occasions... I think we were recruiting up here and just came over to the offices and talked to the coaches. They were really good. Mike Riley was the head coach, Cal Murphy was the GM. I'm pretty certain they were the kings of the CFL at that point. They were pretty impressive."
WIECEK: Now, you still live in Lawrence, Kansas, right?
BURKE: "Yeah, in the whole two months of my off-season."
WIECEK: You're the Bombers boss now -- you going to buy a house and spend the winter with us?
BURKE: "I already own a condo (in Winnipeg). If I'm lucky enough to be retained after this year, I will probably spend more time here, yes."
WIECEK: Your wife, Rita, is she up here with you?
BURKE: "She has a job (in Lawrence) and she has, I think, four more years before retirement. So it's pretty hard to give that up, with the pension and all that. But she comes up. She's probably been up five times this season."
WIECEK: Let's talk tech -- you ever tweeted?
BURKE: "No. And I don't plan to."
WIECEK: That's not part of the job description these days?
BURKE: "Not as far as I know."
WIECEK: You learned coaching in the days it was all papers and film. Have you embraced the new era?
BURKE: "I've graduated to computers, yes. I'm not comfortable enough with the iPad yet, though. I will need the off-season to get comfortable with that."
WIECEK: So what do you do around town when you're not working?
BURKE: "Not a whole heck of a lot, really. I sometimes go out to eat, that's really about it."
WIECEK: Do you fish? Hunt?
BURKE: "No, there's no time for that."
BURKE: "Since I've been in the CFL, I haven't golfed once. I used to golf all the time."
WIECEK: So in terms of Winnipeg and Manitoba, what have you explored?
BURKE: "Well, I've been downtown. I've been to Assiniboine Park. I've been up to Grand Lake."
WIECEK: Grand Beach?
BURKE: "Yeah, Grand Beach. I'd like to get over to Kenora sometime. I hear it's pretty."
WIECEK: When's the last time you cried, Tim?
BURKE: "I can't remember."
WIECEK: That long ago, or you just don't want to tell me?
BURKE: "No, I really don't remember."
WIECEK: Alright, some short snappers now and I will let you get back to work. When and where were you happiest?
BURKE: "Well, last year I was pretty happy. We had pretty good results. And I was pretty happy when I was at Purdue University (as the secondary coach from 1997-99). We had a great staff. I worked for a great head coach in Joe Tiller. We were successful -- we had Drew Brees (now of the New Orleans Saints) as our quarterback, so that helped. And it was really the first time I was making enough money so that I could actually start to save some."
WIECEK: What's your biggest fault?
BURKE: "I probably trust people too much."
WIECEK: Do you have a hero?
BURKE: "No, I can't say that I do."
WIECEK: What person in world history would you most like to meet?
BURKE: "Julius Caesar."
WIECEK: How come?
BURKE: "He had great charisma, was obviously extremely intelligent and he was able to basically build an empire. He was a great warrior as well. He was just great and versatile and good at everything he did."
WIECEK: Do you read much? Who's your favourite author?
BURKE: "I read lots, but I'm pretty eclectic. I go anywhere from philosophy and history to science fiction and novels."
WIECEK: Do you go to church?
BURKE: "I probably don't go enough, but I do go yes."
WIECEK: Still a practising Catholic, more or less?
BURKE: "No, I'm pretty much inter-denominational. But I usually go to a Catholic church."
WIECEK: What trait do you most deplore in others?
BURKE: "Laziness. And uncaring."
WIECEK: Last one -- did you vote for Obama?
BURKE: "I'd rather not talk politics."
WIECEK: Smart man. Good luck in the new job.
BURKE: "Thanks, I appreciate that."