OTTAWA — The Ottawa Redblacks expect to win and they believe Shawn Burke is the man to help them do just that.
The Redblacks officially introduced Burke as their new general manager at a press conference on Monday. He is just the second person to hold the position since the team’s inception in 2014. Marcel Desjardins, who had been with the franchise since Day 1, was fired in late October.
Ottawa is coming off a disappointing 3-11 season, which also came on the heels of a 3-15 record in 2019.
Burke, a native of Guelph, Ont., spent the last 15 years with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and has served as the club's co-manager of football operations alongside Drew Allemang since 2019.
He was one of 10 individuals interviewed by the Redblacks from a pool of 25 candidates that had been identified.
Burke says success starts with creating a winning culture, something he says the Ottawa ownership group is committed to.
“It was just about fit,” said Burke. “You know, I've had other opportunities. I had other opportunities this year, and what I've learned from some of my mentors is, it starts at the top with the ownership.”
While many new general managers prefer to hire their own coach, Burke appears set to work alongside Paul LaPolice.
LaPolice was hired in 2019 but just finished his first season in Ottawa due to the cancellation of the 2020 campaign.
Burke said he will be reaching out to each player under contract to not only create relationships but to make sure they understand his expectations.
"I think we have to define what we want as a Redblacks DNA … and don't steer away from those core philosophies," Burke said. "We will get that defined together."
Burke wouldn’t come out and say exactly what changes he felt the team needed, despite numerous attempts by reporters to get him to commit to an answer. He remained steadfast in saying the team would build the right culture by finding the right players.
Some deals were already taken care of as the Redblacks signed numerous players to one-year contract extensions including kicker Lewis Ward, punter Richie Leone, returner DeVonte Dedmon, linebacker Avery Williams, defensive backs Sherrod Baltimore, Brandin Dandridge and Justin Howell, as well as long-snapper Louis-Philippe Bourassa and special teamers Brendan Gillanders and Nigel Romick.
Quarterback is another area of concern for Burke. The Redblacks have rookie Caleb Evans and the newly signed Devlin “Duck” Hodges under contract.
Both looked good in the small sample size Ottawa had to evaluate them this past season. Burke said he will do his own evaluations on the current prospects, but a veteran QB could be at the top of the new GM's wish list.
“I think you have to look at all position groups when you're coming into a job like this," said Burke. "It's without a doubt that the quarterback position is the most important position in pro football.
“So that position I truly believe has to be someone that you can rely on and is your hardest working person.”
Ottawa is expected to be active once free agency opens Feb. 8.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2021.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press