Shawn Burke, the new general manager of the Ottawa Redblacks, learned all about Canadian football from CFL legend Ron Lancaster almost fifteen years ago.
“I can remember those days like they were yesterday. Ron was a community ambassador for us at that point but I think Bev, his wife, would know this — he just loved talking ball. Community ambassadors usually don’t into the office every day and you certainly don’t have a seven-day schedule for them in terms of events, so what it turned into was just watching film together — games, practices, and just talking shop,” Burke told TSN 1200.
Burke was the director of community relations for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2007, which was one year after Ron Lancaster’s final season as the club’s head coach. The four-time Grey Cup champion and Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee passed away due to a heart attack the following year at the age of 68.
“At that point I was so novice in what I knew and everything and just to have that ability to spend so much time with a man that just loved the game and just loved talking shop, it helped get me sort of my knowledge base for at least being able to have football discussions and whatnot. I didn’t know how lucky and special it was at the time,” said Burke.
“I definitely knew the person and the football player and the coach and executive he was, but to look back on that — to have that ability to basically go to school with Ron Lancaster at the start of not even my football career, but my business career with the CFL — it was just outstanding.”
Burke has his work cut out for him in Ottawa where the team has compiled a miserable 6-26 regular season record over the past two seasons. He identified the club’s special teams as a strength, including return specialist DeVonte Dedmon, placekicker Lewis Ward, punter Richie Leone, though he knows the roster needs to be enhanced in other areas.
“We’re going to have to evaluate some things and see who can be playmakers here and who aren’t in roles that they should be. You need playmakers to win in this league and I have a core philosophy on certain aspects of rosters and we’re going to address those and go from there. It’s going to be an ongoing process where we’re evaluating for the next three to four weeks,” said Burke.
“There’s lots of different ways to do things in this league. … I’m not one of these GMs that’s constantly pushing for younger, I’m not a GM that’s pushing for veterans, I’m a GM that’s pushing for wins and how we get that is a collective effort of understanding what each other’s philosophies are and what out core DNA wants to be as an organization.”
Burke said he wants the team to become more athletic and physical, which makes sense given how badly Ottawa struggled in 2021. The offence averaged a league-worst 5.0 yards per play, while the defence allowed a league-worst 6.5 yards per play. The club also scored an average of 16.0 points per game while allowing 27.4 points per game, both of which ranked last in the CFL.
“I think football is a game of will and I think if you can impose your will on your opponent, it goes a long way. If you look at who has been successful in the league — you know, Winnipeg two-time Grey Cup champions — they’re a physical football team that gets after it,” said Burke.
“I believe that in Hamilton they have installed that in their culture that they’re a tough football team to play against — Saskatchewan, same thing. It’s not a non-physical game. If you can impose will, it goes a long way.”
Burke indicated that he plans to move to Ottawa full-time, believing that it’s a necessity for general managers to live where they work. He also indicated that the Redblacks will look to finalize their coaching staff over the next three to four weeks.
It has been previously reported that Paul LaPolice will remain the club’s head coach for 2022.