Will Tim Burke (L)'s stint in Winnipeg go as poorly as Gary Cherone's in Van Halen?Last CFL season, we did team previews with a movie theme. We're staying in the arts but shifting our focus over towards music this year with a CFL Soundtrack series, comparing each team to a band or artist, breaking down their chances this year and giving a prediction for their success. These will run in order of the team's predicted success this year, starting from the bottom. First up, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who have plenty of similarities to Van Halen.
During the David Lee Roth era, Van Halen released albums like the quadruple-platinum Diver Down.Bands that have undergone massive personnel changes over the years aren't exactly uncommon, but what stands out about Van Halen is how uneven the split of power has always been. The band has always been controlled by famed guitarist Eddie Van Halen, and that's led to a revolving cast of lead singers over the years: David Lee Roth took them to massive popularity, but then was dumped in favour of Sammy Hagar, who was in turn bumped, leading to a brief audition for Mitch Malloy, an also-brief reunion with Roth, four years with Gary Cherone, four years out of the public spotlight, three years with Hagar again and then another reunion with Roth, but one that's been on rather unequal terms. (See this great April BuzzFeed piece on Roth for more on that.) Similarly, the Bombers have had their own revolving door of coaches and players recently, but general manager Joe Mack has been the constant presence at the top since 2010 despite much of the public calling for his head, and last season saw him dispatch popular head coach Paul LaPolice, an exit that bears many parallels to Roth's first departure from Van Halen.
The band hit massive commercial success with 1984 and its lead single, "Jump", released that year, but the already-present infighting reached its own peak on the ensuing tour and led to Roth's departure in 1986. Similarly, the Mack-LaPolice partnership led the Blue Bombers to great heights in 2011, where they reached the Grey Cup (losing to B.C.), but things fell apart quickly the following year when LaPolice was fired in August following the team's 2-6 start. At that time, there was a solid argument to be made that the issues with Winnipeg were more about Mack's roster construction and poor drafting, but that didn't matter: Mack held the power, and LaPolice was quickly booted out, replaced with defensive coordinator Tim Burke. Burke's first game was a disaster of Cheronesque proportions, as the team was thumped 52-0, and although he insisted they weren't yet dead, they went just 4-6 under him with plenty of blowout losses and weren't noticeably better than they were under LaPolice. However, there were inspiring moments, and Mack elected to remove the interim tag from Burke's title on November 1, making him an official part of this band. The question going forward is if this will be a Hagar-era partnership that works out, or a Cherone-era one that flops disastrously.
If things go well for Burke in Winnipeg, he might reach Sammy Hagar's level of success.The Hagar era of Van Halen's often criticized by some for its departure from the Diamond Dave era, but it worked out well for the band: the superb 5150 became their first No. 1 album, and the other three studio albums during Hagar's first tenure (OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and Balance) also reached No. 1. Thus, a Hagar comparison isn't bad at all for Burke: he's not LaPolice, but he's his own man with his own style, and there's a chance the Bombers can find similar or greater success with him as they did with his predecessor. Winnipeg did post some impressive wins under Burke last season, including a 44-32 road victory over the eventual Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts. He's also now had a complete offseason to overhaul the team's schemes and mould them in his image, so we'll get a better picture of what he can do as a head coach this year. Winnipeg does have some talented pieces for him to use, too, including quarterback Buck Pierce, a plethora of capable running backs (Chad Simpson, Chris Garrett, Carl Volny and more) and receivers Chris Matthews and Terrence Edwards. There are dreams that they, and he, might just be good enough.
However, there are also indications that Burke's tenure may be more like Cherone's. The Bombers' 24-6 and 52-0 preseason losses don't reflect well on him, even if he predicted the latter one. The team still hasn't addressed many of the talent issues they had last year, and they've gotten rid of talented players like all-star DB Jonathan Hefney, perhaps over minor disciplinary concerns. The Hefney case in particular may speak to a divide between Mack and Burke, as Mack seemed willing to forgive and forget, but Burke took responsibility for cutting him. Beyond that, the team's dearth of experienced quarterbacks behind the injury-prone Pierce may help them develop players down the road, but it could hurt them if Pierce is injured this year. Add it up, and there aren't a lot of signs suggesting this season will be a 5150-style performance from Burke and Winnipeg: it may well be more like the lacklustre Cherone-era Van Halen III. Still, you never know in the CFL, and plenty expected Hagar to fail too. If Burke can channel him instead, the Bombers might just have the best of both worlds.
Prediction: 5-13, last in East.