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A Season on the Brink: Laughing During a Funeral

Posted by Drew Mindell in A Season on the Brink on September 19, 2012 — No Comments

Editor’s note: Following each Winnipeg Blue Bombers game, win or lose, Dr. Richard Hechter, an Assistant Professor of Science and Mathematics Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba, will examine some of the key moments and decisions of the previous game.


In times of crisis and adversity, players and coaches often comment that it is time to “look in the mirror” and begin to refocus. It is on this theme that this article emanates.

This week I explore the facial expressions of the on-field leaders of Blue and Gold. Paul Ekman I am not, but analyzing the patterns of these microexpressions reveals much about the current state of the Bombers.

This snapshot of Tim Burke taken late in the fourth quarter with his eyes cast down, lips pinched, head down and to the side is a classic visual sign of sadness.

For the record, Tim Burke is not a bad coach. In fact, he is an excellent defensive coach. Excluding the debacle of this season, in the previous five years, Tim Burke has been to the Grey Cup four times. His defences were feared. His players were taught to be intuitive to the ball and the progression of the play. This made them tough to play against and even more difficult to score against.

Burke has a skilled and tactically sound mind for this side of the ball, and can communicate that well with his players. As a head coach, Burke is seemingly underprepared and has been given a team that despite moments of brilliance, has deep rooted issues and perpetual detractors.

Aside from his strategic error I discussed last week (which he later took ownership of), Tim Burke is not getting help from either Offensive Coach Crowton, or GM Mack. This should not go unaccounted for in reviewing his 0-3 record.

In summary, Tim Burke is a good coach, who deserves a fair shake to be evaluated for his ability to wear the big headset. The team he has in front of him, the coaches he inherited, and the upper management making decisions for him need also to be considered. There are however leaders on this team who can be the foundation blocks to build from in an effort to move the team forward. Jovon Johnson is one of them.

Jovon Johnson is a leader. His face in this capture reveals sadness, punctuated with microexpressions of desire and contemplation. No one except for him will ever truly know what he was thinking, but his expression suggests he was coming to resolution with what was happening as well as figuring out what more of a leadership role he can take to try to turn the team around.

Let us not forget that he has already moved positions, and has started to excel there. For comparison, Brandon LaBatte allegedly left town because coaches wanted him to move positions from which he was an all-star; but Johnson, the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player last season, volunteered to change positions to help field a better and more competitive team. This is the type of leader you want on your team.

Look at his face once again, and keep that in mind when looking at Brandon Collier’s picture below.

Brandon Collier’s facial expression analysis, in this given moment with 1:19 left in the fourth quarter with his team trailing 44-3, is easy: he reveals joy. Laughter, upper lips raised, and corner of eyes upward – all telltale signs of joy.  

The irony of this picture of Collier is that if you zoom out on the photo, you may actually see what is, at least partially, responsible for the lack of team success.

In the same moment that Collier expressed joy, despite trailing by 41 points with just over one-minute left to play, head coach Burke showed the exact opposite emotion – as I described up above.

Leadership is reflected by attitude, and should transcend to the players. Clearly, as captured in the shot above, this is not occurring. Until this chasm is bridged, Bomber fortunes will be difficult to change.

Reflection as a literal and practical construct is much more than a party-line issued when Bomber results are on a downward trajectory; it is a critical attribute to turning the football club around.