George Cortez and Henry Burris are together again.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats announced the appointment of Cortez as the CFL club's head coach and football-operations director Saturday. Cortez had spent the last two seasons as the quarterbacks coach of the Buffalo Bills, who had given the Ticats permission to speak with Cortez after the NFL team ended its season.
“Hey @Ticats, we’ve hired George Cortez as new HC of #Ticats. Check out www.Ticats.ca. So excited had to tell someone!” owner Bob Young tweeted.
The 60-year-old Cortez joins the Ticats with an extensive CFL coaching resume that included working as the offensive co-ordinator and assistant head coach with the Calgary Stampeders from 2007 to 2009. Over that span, he worked closely with Burris, the former Stampeders' quarterback who Hamilton acquired last week.
Cortez and Burris helped Calgary win the 2008 Grey Cup. They will be introduced together at a news conference Tuesday in Hamilton.
Cortez will take over from Marcel Bellefeuille, who was fired in November. Under Bellefeuille, Hamilton finished third in the East Division with an 8-10 record but reached the conference final with a thrilling overtime semifinal road win in Montreal before dropping a season-ending 19-3 decision to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Hamilton hasn't won the Grey Cup since '99 under late head coach Ron Lancaster.
“George’s track record of success speaks for itself, including more than 30 years of coaching experience in the CFL, NFL and NCAA,” Young said in a release. “He’s been a part of four Grey Cup championship teams, has engineered some of the CFL’s most prolific offences and has coached some of the best quarterbacks in professional football.
“We’re extremely confident that he will build us a championship-calibre program here in Hamilton.”
The acquisition of Cortez could prove to be good news for the Blue Bombers. Tim Burke, the architect of Winnipeg's stout defence last season, was deemed as a leading candidate for the Hamilton job if Cortez opted against taking it.
The Ticats are the last of four CFL teams to decide on a new head coach this off-season. Last month, the Toronto Argonauts (Scott Milanovich), B.C. Lions (Mike Benevides) and Saskatchewan Roughriders (Corey Chamblin) all made their appointments as part of a flurry of activity to kick off the CFL off-season.
However, Ticats GM Bob O'Billovich — who also has worked with Cortez in the past — took his time in his search. He conducted a series of interviews with the likes of Burke, Toronto special-teams coach Mike O'Shea and Calgary offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson but Cortez always remained high on his wish list.
However, O'Billovich couldn't officially speak to Cortez without securing permission from the Bills.
Cortez earned a reputation in the CFL for being an offensive guru. He also knows what it takes to win, having been part of four Grey Cup-winning teams.
Cortez also helped Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick shine early this season. That helped the former St. Louis Ram and Cincinnati Bengal secure a US$59-million, six-year contract extension with the Bills on Oct. 28.
Fitzpatrick helped lead Buffalo to a 5-2 record to start the season — including a 23-0 win over Washington at Rogers Centre on Oct. 30. But the Bills ended the year on a whimper, posting a 6-10 mark to miss the NFL playoffs.