Redblacks’ GM Shawn Burke says decision to fire Paul LaPolice is all about winning games

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Ottawa Redblacks’ general manager Shawn Burke chose not to wait until the end of the season to fire head coach Paul LaPolice in the hope that his team can be more competitive over their four remaining games.

“It gives an opportunity for people to step out into different roles, lets the players maybe play a little more freely and not [have] a cloud over them. We want to evaluate at the end of the day right now where we’re at. The expectations are we’re going to compete to win the last four football games,” Burke told the media in a press conference that was carried by TSN 1200.

“It’s not going to be making changes to the roster and evaluating young guys. We are prepared to win each and every week as a football club. We don’t necessarily control our own destiny at this point but what we do control is setting the imprint of what we’re going to be as an organization moving forward and I believe that is to put the best product on the field week after week for the rest of the season to get the momentum going.”

LaPolice was fired on Saturday after a 34-19 loss to the B.C. Lions that dropped the team to 3-11 on the season. He finished his tenure in the nation’s capital with a 6-22 record and was replaced on an interim basis by special teams coordinator Bob Dyce. The team remains mathematically eligible to secure a postseason berth, though the odds of them doing so appear slim at best.

Burke broke the news to LaPolice and classified it as “a very open conversation of two friends talking.” The discussion lasted 15 to 20 minutes and Burke credited LaPolice with handling it like a “complete professional.” Players were notified of LaPolice’s firing promptly via email, which was done to prevent them from learning about it through the media.

“Our record isn’t what any of us in that room want it to be right now but our effort, our daily process, and everything from [our players] should be commended,” said Burke. “They come in, they come to work each day and the next four weeks are going to be a proving ground of what the Ottawa Redblacks are going to be moving forward.”

Burke also referenced LaPolice’s outgoing statement in which the veteran coach made it clear that he was well supported and never felt as though he wasn’t Burke’s “guy” despite predating him by two years in the organization.

“[LaPolice is an] outstanding person, good football coach and we were just privileged to work with him. He handled the news with the class and dignity that you would expect,” said Burke. “That’s not lip service, that’s what me and him were and I know he’ll bounce back in this league.”

President and CEO Mark Goudie expressed his frustration regarding narratives surrounding the club that he claims aren’t true, particularly when it comes to the commitment from ownership. He made it clear that Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) go about things the “right way,” giving him the tools to do his job without getting involved in the decision-making process.

“We spend to the cap. We spend within dollars of the cap. We spend within dollars of the non-player [football operations] cap. Our ownership is as committed to winning as anybody,” he said. “CFL football is back in Ottawa and it’s back to stay. We’re committed to it staying in Ottawa.”

“I think we’ve got the right structure in place here. I think we’ve got a lot of the right elements in place. We’ll need to make some changes in the offseason but my expectation is next year we’re back to where we need to be.”

Goudie also said that LaPolice’s dismissal was “all Shawn’s decision” because “it’s his football team.” He indicated that he wasn’t unhappy to see LaPolice remain at the helm this season as he “wasn’t handed a roster that was capable of doing wonderful things” in 2021.

The executive also appreciates that fans are upset as the Redblacks have won just nine games since the start of the 2019 season. When asked what he’d to say to earn back the trust of R-Nation following another disappointing season, Goudie suggested that words aren’t enough and that it’s instead time for action.

“I don’t know that there’s anything we can say to do that. We need to show it. We need to win games, we need to win games at home. I think we talked about it when Shawn was hired, our goals here are to play exciting football at TD Place, make the playoffs every year, and host a playoff game. That’s our goals and that’s our goals this year and it’ll be our goal next year.”

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.