Burke sets sights on return to glory days

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The new defensive co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was reminiscing about the good old days, Tuesday.

Not his, but those of his new team.

Tim Burke’s first taste of three-down football came way back in the 1980s, when he was with the University of North Dakota.

“We came up and visited the Blue Bombers organization, and at that time Mike Riley was the head coach,” Burke recalled. “And obviously they were very good at that time.”

Yeah, but that was then, Mr. Burke. This is now. And the Bombers are the CFL’s weak sister. Haven’t won a Grey Cup since Riley brought his second one home, in 1990.

That’s enough time for a new generation to have grown up and graduated from university, and for Burke to ply his trade at Ball State, Wyoming, Purdue, Kansas, Tennessee-Chattanooga and Indiana, before his work brought him north of the border.

If you’re wondering what Burke has learned in all those years and what the Bomber defence is going to look like, or at least, attempt to, look no further than the Montreal Alouettes, from whence he came.

“I do like to blitz,” Burke, on the phone from Lawrence, Kan., said. “I like to put pressure on the quarterback. I like to put pressure on the receivers. I’m not a big believer in bend-but-don’t-break defence.”

Of course, as Burke himself said, you need the players to do it.

If you can play aggressive, man-to-man coverage, you’re his kind of defensive back. If you can’t, well, he may have to tone down the blitzes — until he finds someone who can.

That’s what Burke did with the Alouettes, and the results were frightening.

Two years ago, Montreal’s defence was hell to run against, and near hell to pass against. The Als went 15-3 and won the Grey Cup.

Last season, that aggressive style cost them all kinds of big plays, but when it mattered most, in the playoffs, his defence clamped down and won another Grey Cup. Back to back. Not even Mike Riley’s teams did that.

Burke figures the Bomber defence has serious potential.

Under Kavis Reed, it put up decent numbers. But if you needed a stop to seal a win, forget it.

The Bomber offence pulled the same chokeroo, and 4-14 was the result.

“My goal for our defence would be to improve on what Kavis has built,” Burke said. “We always wanted to watch Winnipeg’s defence against the opponent, because we felt they were similar to us, as far as the talent.”

As for how Burke got here, it almost sounds like head coach Paul LaPolice stumbled into the idea.

While regrouping following rejections from Richie Hall and Cory Chamblin, LaPolice saw a light bulb go on late last week.

“I was trying to reassess,” LaPolice said. “I guess on Friday I said, ‘You know what...’ I reached out to Tim.”

Burke was no longer under contract to Montreal, but the Als generally give their assistants until late January to look into their options.

“We were trying to get somebody who was obviously very qualified, and there was a window of opportunity,” LaPolice said. “So we really tried to jump at it.”

In landing Burke, LaPolice has a man imminently qualified for the job, and maybe more.

While he didn’t interview for the Winnipeg head job a year ago, Burke makes it clear he’s a head coach in waiting.

Maybe that’s why he left the two-time defending champs for “a new challenge.”

Or maybe he just remembered how big a deal football could be in a place like this.

“I really found that to be very appealing,” Burke said. “To be a part of that and catch the organization on the rise is real exciting for me.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of helping the Bombers return to the glory of its past.”

Join the club, Mr. Burke.


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