August 22, 2013

Irving: Change in philosophy underway in Winnipeg

It’s been barely more than a week since CEO Garth Buchko and General Manager Joe Mack were let go by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but already the new people in charge have orchestrated a fundamental shift in philosophy regarding the recruitment of players. 

Mack was always reticent to bring in players who were released by other CFL teams, especially veteran players. He felt that any player who was cut by another club had to be deficient in some area – if he’s not good enough for them, how could he be good enough for us? 

And Mack rarely waded into the free agent market, believing that you usually wound up overpaying for free agents. That approach to recruiting talent will no longer be adhered to.
Acting General manager Kyle Walters and head coach Tim Burke, no doubt with the endorsement of acting CEO Wade Miller, made their first move in changing the Bombers player recruitment approach by signing defensive back Bo Smith on Tuesday. 

Smith played 5 seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before being released this spring and Burke said he’s the kind of veteran player who already understands the CFL game, who could step right in if needed, and who can provide immediate competition for Winnipeg’s current defensive backs, some of whom are struggling.  

“Yes, it’s definitely the beginning of a fundamental shift in how we recruit players. We are going to acquire players however we need to acquire them, whether we bring them up ourselves from the U.S., sign free agents, take people that other people have released, or draft them.  We have to do it better,” said Burke.  

“Players change teams in this league all the time and have success.  Keron Williams got cut by the Stampeders, we picked him up in Montreal, and he has been an all-star with the Als and now with BC. We are going to do whatever it takes to make us a better team.  If somebody comes available now that’s good, we’ll go after them.  It’s not going to happen overnight but we are going to keep working at it.”
Burke pointed to the Saskatchewan Roughriders as the perfect example of a successful team that added players from other CFL teams.

“If you look at their roster, they are full of vets. They have done a great job in free agency, including picking our pockets(Brendon LaBatte).  They’ve acquired guys like Rey Williams, who Hamilton cut.  They have done just a great job of putting their team together,” he said.

“And defensive tackle Kevin Huntley was cut by Toronto and now he’s a starter in Calgary.  We will consider bringing on board any productive CFL veteran who becomes available.  Our team has been too young and too inexperienced the last couple of years and that has to change.”