Lost in the headlines of Eric Tillman’s promotion to Ticat general manager, two of the team’s longest-serving front office staffers also got hard-earned title bumps.
Director of football operations Shawn Burke and director of Canadian scouting Drew Allemang were both elevated to assistant general manager which means… well, very little actually.
“The responsibilities are pretty much the same,” said Allemang. “I think it’s important not to let these things affect your focus, to just go about your job the way you always have.”
Allemang joined the Ticats at 24 as an equipment staffer, though he was a regular in the locker room while his father played 14 CFL seasons, including two different stints with Hamilton. One of his earliest memories is being held upside down over a cold tub by the monstrous hand of legendary defensive end Grover Covington. He slowly worked his way up the ladder and has been in football operations for the last six years.
Burke’s time with the club – everyone in football calls him “Burkie” – began in 2007 as the director of community relations. Without a football-related role, Burke would start his days with 6 a.m. film sessions under the tutelage of Ron Lancaster, then in an emeritus role with the team. Burke moved to football operations in 2011.
Both were inherited by vice-president of football operations Kent Austin when he took over in late 2012 and had to earn Austin’s trust. Three-plus seasons later, they’re still here.
“I think it’s a credit to coach Austin and his open-minded approach that he kept some of the staff on board,” Burke said. “That said, I felt like I had to prove myself and the easiest way to do that is to show dedication and to work hard.”
Both Burke and Allemang are in their mid-30s and were early adopters in the wave of technology, analytics and science that have swept the sport in the last half-decade. That’s lined up perfectly with the Ticats’ current way of thinking.
“What coach Austin brings is an overall plan that’s innovative and forward-thinking and that’s how I see the changes in football and sports in general,” Burke said. “There are so many things that can be used as a resource to help the organization be successful and it’s about implementing as much data and information as possible.”
Allemang, who criss-crosses the country for much of the fall visiting Canadian university football programs to scout players, says the old “eyeball test” is no longer sufficient when it comes to evaluating players.
“Coach Austin wants our recommendations to be more than just ‘I like him, let’s sign him.’ It’s a more progressive approach that embraces technology and information,” he said.
Burke’s primary responsibilities involve player recruitment – convincing neg list players to come to Canada – and contract negotiations. He also handles much of the team’s logistics and travel arrangements while also doing some scouting – something all Ticat coaches and front office staff have a role in.
“The biggest thing I’ve had to learn – and the thing I’ve had to prove I can do – is player evaluation. It’s about gaining trust, that when I bring a name forward they know the work has gone in,” Burke said. “The continuity makes it’s easier: I know what coach Austin is looking for, not just in terms of players but in terms of people, too.”
The Ticat duo are also part of an increasing number of homegrown CFL coaches and front office types. Saskatchewan assistant general manager Jeremy O’Day, B.C. director of football operations Neil McEvoy, Brendan Mahoney and Mike Petrie in Calgary, Winnipeg’s Kyle Walters and Ted Goveia, Spencer Zimmerman with the Argonauts and Joey Swarbrick and Marcel Desjardins in Ottawa are just some of the Canadian-born football talent around the league.
Burke downplays his nationality as a factor but Allemang believes it’s important for the future of the CFL game. Since his promotion, he’s received a number of calls from football types around the country wanting to move up the ranks: his title bump may have more of an impact on others than it does on him.
“I think it’s definitely important for the game. The Canadians that are involved in the CFL do it because they have for a passion not just for the game but the league as well,” Allemang said. “I don’t want to go somewhere else, I’m not chasing other leagues, other jobs, other dreams. I want to work to create the best CFL I can possibly can.”