Tim BURKE took a job fraught with risk, one that could stain his résumé forever. And he didn't even get a raise. Maybe for those reasons alone he should have the interim tag removed and be handed a contract to coach the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the rest of this season and next.
Burke's explanation of why he took the job gives an observer reason to believe this franchise has a pair of capable and caring hands at the wheel.
"It just wouldn't have been right to say no. The right thing was to take it. I had the largest title and the most experience in the CFL. It was the correct thing to do. I needed to step forward," said Burke. "Granted, I wanted to be a head coach but that wasn't the reason to take this job at this time. I had to do it as part of my role within this organization."
The Bombers were 2-6 when GM Joe Mack fired head coach Paul LaPolice and installed Burke at the helm. The next three games were disasters as the Bombers dropped them all, including a pair of thumpings and a last-second field-goal loss that Burke wore as his own responsibility due to a coaching error.
The Tim Burke era did not start with a bang.
But underneath the losses, Burke was getting through to his players. Finally they broke through with a win last week and, just maybe, there are better things down the road for this outfit.
"The first thing I noticed when coach Burke held his first meeting was that all eyes faced the front and on him. No one else was doing any talking. It's always like that when he steps into the room. He brought a credibility and respect with him, immediately," said Bombers veteran receiver Terrence Edwards after Friday morning's walkthrough.
Quarterback Buck Pierce says Burke commands respect.
"He's got a presence. And he's as straight a shooter as you'll come across. He'll tell you the truth right to your face," said Pierce.
LaPolice was, in many ways, set up to fail. There was far too much transition on the roster in the off-season and the locker-room had no anchor. The players pushed LaPolice and his response, for whatever reason, didn't get through.
Earlier this season, LaPolice fined defensive back Jonathan Hefney for a dress-code violation and the announcement was put on the locker-room white board. Shortly after, the message, "I don't care," was scribbled beside the fine announcement. This type of defiance breaks down a team. The players say Burke cuts it off before it starts.
"No one is going to try him. If he has a rule it's understood and obeyed. If he says something, guys listen and do it," said Edwards.
There are early indications Burke deserves a real opportunity to coach this team and not just get stuck trying to put out one fire after another for a 10-game stretch.
"The first thing is we have to be competitive in every game. That Calgary (a 44-3 pasting) game was a real disappointment. The No. 1 thing is that we show we're competitive every week and our guys play hard and show that they care," said Burke. "Secondly, whatever the number, you're going to have to win some games. I don't know what that number is but you would have a good shot to keep the job if you made the playoffs. I don't know how many wins that will take because it depends on what opponents do."
Burke did not move down the hall and take the head coach's quarters but instead resides in a tiny and spartan office with little decoration -- some family photos and two Montreal Alouettes championship caps that hang on the wall.
Burke wants his players to only sport Bombers gear but hanging in his office are those two Als hats.
"I put those up there last year to instill confidence with the defensive guys. To show I'd been in that situation, where I took a defence to a Grey Cup and won," said Burke. "To instill confidence that we have a co-ordinator that knows what to do."
Burke says he took the Winnipeg job out of a sense of duty and, despite the iffy start, thinks it's a good fit.
"I really feel like this is my calling in life. I love the game. There's really nothing else I'd rather do," he said. "I like Winnipeg as a football town. I've been in Calgary and I've been in Montreal and we were involved with playoff teams every year. In Winnipeg, the football is so much more of a big deal. Plus I really like the people. They're like the people of the midwest in the U.S. where I'm from. They're friendly and outgoing. It's not like a big city in the East where you just feel like a number."
The numbers will eventually determine Burke's fate. As they should. But getting to those numbers requires having the right makeup inside and out. Burke has those intangibles.
Now his job is to make them into something tangible. Like wins.
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