Cats Look To Cortez, Burris To Return Cup To Hamilton
THE CANADIAN PRESS
HAMILTON, Ont. — Owner Bob Young’s passion convinced George Cortez it was the right time to return to the CFL.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats introduced Cortez as their new head coach and director of football operations Tuesday, three days after a giddy Young tweeted the appointment. The CFL club also formally unveiled quarterback Henry Burris, acquired last week from Calgary, and announced the promotion of Bob O’Billovich — the architect of both moves — to vice-present of football operations following four years as the club’s general manager.
Cortez’s arrival in Hamilton is a reunion of sorts, having worked previously in Calgary with both Burris and O’Billovich. But Cortez said it was his conversation with Young that helped convince him to leave the NFL’s Buffalo Bills — where he had been the club’s quarterbacks coach the past two season — and assume his first CFL head-coaching position.
“When I sat down and talked with Bob Young, he talked about one thing: Winning multiple Grey Cups,” Cortez said. “That’s important because I’ve talked to management people or ownership people where they’ve talked about the perfect storm is hosting a first-round playoff game and losing because that’s where you make the most money.
“That’s not what it’s all about: It’s all about winning games and winning championships. Bob is passionate about the Tiger-Cats and the city of Hamilton and it rubs off on you when you talk to him.”
Cortez, a 60-year-old Texan, is no stranger to winning in the CFL. He has been part of four Grey Cup-winning coaching staffs over his 18 seasons in Canada — spent with Montreal, Ottawa, Saskatchewan and Calgary. He also coached in the NCAA — most notably tutoring current Green Bay Packers’ star quarterback Aaron Rodgers at Cal — and most recently in the NFL with Buffalo.
It was during his time as Calgary’s quarterbacks coach and-or offensive co-ordinator that Cortez developed a reputation as an offensive guru with a flair for developing quarterbacks. He won Grey Cups with Doug Flutie (1992) and Burris (2008) under centre and is credited with helping tutor Jeff Garcia and Dave Dickenson (CFL’s outstanding player in 2000).
What’s more, all four went on to spend time in the NFL as well.
This season, Cortez helped Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick catapult the Bills to a great 5-2 start that secured the quarterback a lucrative long-term contract. But Fitzpatrick and the Bills (6-10) cooled off substantially down the stretch to miss the NFL playoffs.
Cortez takes over a Hamilton squad that struggled establishing consistency last season, posting an 8-10 record to finish third in the East Division. The Ticats upset defending Grey Cup-champion Montreal 52-44 in overtime in the conference semifinal before losing 19-3 to Winnipeg in the division final.
Hamilton hasn’t won the Grey Cup since ’99 when it downed Calgary — with Cortez as its offensive co-ordinator — 32-21 at Vancouver’s B.C. Place.
Cortez expects to handle the offensive co-ordinator’s job in Hamilton this season and says Burris’s familiarity with his approach and schemes should make for a quicker, easier transition.
“For me, one of the key things is he understands what we’re trying to accomplish on offence,” Cortez said. “We have a familiarity about what we’re trying to accomplish and he has the tools to get things done.
“He has a very live arm and can make things happen when plays go bad.”
The six-foot-two, 219-pound Burris was the MVP of Calgary’s 2008 Grey Cup win over Montreal and in 2010 was named the CFL’s outstanding player. He spent a total of nine seasons with the Stampeders and is the club’s all-time leader in passing yards (32,171), touchdowns (233) and completions (2,167).
But Burris, who turns 37 in June, lost his starting job late last season to backup Drew Tate and was deemed expendable after Tate signed a long-term extension this off-season. And while Burris is entering his 13th CFL season, he says he’s far from finished.
“I have plenty left,” he said. “It was tough to have to leave Calgary . . . we achieved a lot of success there in terms of winning championships and really building that organization up and making it a perennial powerhouse.
“But it’s one of those things that happen in sports and there’s no hard feelings . . . now it’s a time for change and for me and my family it’s a great change of scenery.”
Made that much better with Cortez in charge.
“That makes the situation much easier with the transition,” Burris said. “Knowing the guy who taught me this game is going to be on my side again was one of the most ultimate feelings I could experience at this stage in my career.
“I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
Burris said Cortez’s keen eye and attention to detail are two key reasons for his success.
“He always threw a lot of good questions at me to challenge me and will continue to do the same thing to make me a better player,” Burris said. “He leaves no stone unturned, he’s that type of guy and when you have someone that detailed that’s all you can ask for.
“But he’s going to challenge each and every guy on this team and that’s the part I love about him because the talent is definitely here . . . he’s going to challenge us and make us a lot better and that’s why to me he was the best guy for the job. I’m looking forward to getting back together and I’m pretty sure the rest of the guys are going to enjoy being with him when the season gets going.”
It’s been a whirlwind off-season in the CFL with four teams hiring new head coaches and both Hamilton and Toronto making big deals for quarterbacks — the Argonauts acquiring Ricky Ray from Edmonton. But O’Billovich was criticized in some circles for taking so long to hire a coach while other clubs moved quicker to make their appointments.
However, he said with Hamilton being able to land both Burris and Cortez, it was definitely worth the wait.
“I’m excited about the attributes George brings to the table . . . he’s going to be a decisive guy when it comes to making the tough decisions,” O’Billovich said. “Being able to make the trade to get Henry before we got George, I think that made for an even better situation.
“There’s familiarity here, there’s a lot of wins and a lot of Grey Cups here. I’m hopeful this is going to get us over the hump and we’re going to start winning football games on a regular basis this season.”