Gary Lawless of The Winnipeg Free Press had an interesting piece Monday, saying that the Blue Bombers were set to take the "interim" off of head coach Tim Burke's job title and that "his return as head coach is almost automatic." Since then, Burke's said that he hasn't been in discussions with the team about his future, so an announcement may not be quite that imminent. However, there are real questions about if the team should be so set to jump on board with Burke just yet.
Yes, the Bombers have had some impressive victories under Burke, including this past week's 44-32 road win over Toronto. Yes, despite being 5-11, they're still in playoff contention. However, the team hasn't unequivocally improved since the switch to Burke. Sure, the Bombers were 2-6 before head coach Paul LaPolice was fired, and they're 3-5 since. That doesn't necessarily mean that Burke is a better coach or that he's improved the team. Let's look at the picture in a bit of a more comprehensive fashion than just adding up the records. First, consider the results each coach has recorded by score:
Yep, that's right. Despite winning one more game than LaPolice over the same number of contests, Burke's average result has been a loss by 10.6 points. By contrast, LaPolice's average result was a loss by 8.5 points. Sure, margin of victory comes with its own disclaimers (a topic I discussed with Rob Pettapiece on the CIS front this week), but it can still be a useful stat when used in the proper context. One interesting way to do so is to consider the number of close losses.
It's obviously a bit of a debate exactly what's close, but let's look at these coaches' losses within a touchdown (a loss by seven points or less): LaPolice has two (both by three points), while Burke has one (Week 11's one-point Banjo Bowl loss, which had a lot to do with both an injury to Darian Durant and Burke's own end-game bungling). What about losses within two touchdowns (a loss by 14 points or less), a margin that theoretically gives you a chance with three minutes or less (TD, onside kick, TD)? LaPolice has four of those, while Burke only has two. Blowout losses (above 14 points)? Burke has three, by 52, 41 and 19 points, while LaPolice had two, by 17 and 32 points. Sure, Burke has recorded more actual wins, and those are all that matter in the standings. It's definitely arguable that LaPolice gave his team as many or more chances to win than Burke has, though, and his team was certainly embarrassed less.
Does that mean Burke should be axed? Of course not. The only thing sillier than changing coaches in midseason after a run to the Grey Cup is changing coaches twice in midseason, and Burke should at least get the chance to finish this year. Moreover, many of the issues with the Bombers are on the personnel side, not the coaching side. That brings up another issue, though; the team has to decide whether to keep general manager Joe Mack or go in a different direction, and you probably want to let either Mack or his replacement have input on who's coaching the team.
In Burke's defence, his team has looked better lately. Two of their three wins in his tenure have come in the last three weeks. He also seems to be adapting to the head coaching job (a role he'd never held at a high level before this season), and this isn't to say that he's doomed to fail. The point here is just that it might be a little premature to go anointing Burke as a Mike Rileyesque franchise saviour, especially before the team plays its final two regular-season games. Despite the hype, what he's accomplished to date isn't really much better on balance than what the coach they already fired this season did.