Decision at head coach among many off-season tasks facing Redblacks GM Burke

OTTAWA — After three straight seasons of falling far short of expectations, Ottawa Redblacks general manager Shawn Burke will have his work cut out for him this off-season.

Ottawa finished the 2022 season 4-14-0 and an embarrassing 0-9 at TD Place. When a season concludes with just four wins, a fired head coach and a winless home record, there are bound to be changes.

One of Burke’s many tasks will be deciding who should be at the helm of for this next edition of the Redblacks. Paul LaPolice was fired following a 34-19 loss to B.C. in Week 17, and Bob Dyce was named interim head coach for the final four games.

Dyce, who has been part of the Redblacks coaching staff since 2016, will likely be considered a candidate, but Burke says they plan to hold a thorough search.

“I think we have a great candidate in house,” Burke said Monday. “I think Bob did a great job since taking over and he's definitely a candidate.

"But we owe it again, to the ownership group to our organization and to our fan base, to do a proper thorough process, because it's a big decision for our football club."

Dyce said he’s interested in the opportunity and feels more than capable to take on the challenge ahead, but wouldn’t hold any ill will should Burke and the organization choose to go in a different direction.

"At the end of the day this is part of the business so I’m prepared either way," Dyce said. "Not to be overly cocky, but I think I’m pretty good at my special teams job and I think if I happen to be a free agent I’ll have opportunities to coach in this league that I love."

The Redblacks were dealt a huge blow early in the season when Jeremiah Masoli sustained a season-ending injury after an illegal hit from Saskatchewan defensive tackle Garrett Marino late in his team’s Week 5 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Redblacks turned to Caleb Evans then added reinforcement by acquiring Nick Arbuckle, who took over for much of the second half of the season.

Masoli, who’s under contract for next season, says he’s looking forward to a comeback, but the Redblacks will need to consider if they want to risk going into the season with an inexperienced backup or have the security of someone who can step in immediately.

"We want to have the depth at that position that we don't have to go out and do something reactionary in the future,” Burke said. "We're hoping to build that depth through these guys."

Burke mentioned prospects Tyree Adams, Breylin Smith and Dustin Crum, but didn’t discard the idea of Evans or Arbuckle. Both are in the final year of their contract and Burke assumes they will want to see what options are available.

Burke said he doesn’t believe he needs to blow things up, and with some key additions he will be able to field a competitive team.

"There is a core group that I think we can build on here," Burke said. "But we have to add to that and we have to continuously get better because there's eight other teams in the league that are going to get better."

Veteran defensive back Antoine Pruneau believes there are good pieces in place, but says the status quo is not acceptable.

"There are some really good people here, whether it’s players or coaches," Pruneau said. "We can’t fool ourselves. There has to be changes. Whether it’s coaches, players or the way we work something has to change because the reality is that what we’re doing right now is not enough to win football games."

Pruneau, who has been with the Redblacks since Day 1, would like to return to the team as he feels he still has lots to offer, but understands he might not have that option.

Redblacks fans were spoiled early on and grew accustomed to winning, with the team appearing in three Grey Cups and winning a championship over its first five seasons.

Burke, who was named general manager last December, will have the challenge of making sure he gets things done right as the Redblacks try to recapture that early success.

"We're going to get to where we need to be in my opinion," Burke said. "Obviously, I have that optimism because I have a ton of belief in myself, but 2023 is going to be an important year for this organization."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2022.

Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press