Call him Hatin’ Hank.
The Ottawa Redblacks quarterback – known as Smilin’ Hank for his relentlessly sunny disposition – used a good chunk of his 30 minute press conference in Winnipeg on Wednesday to outline a series of slights he says have become a significant source of motivation heading into Sunday’s Grey Cup game against the Edmonton Eskimos.
A number of them involve the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and, more specifically, general manager and head coach Kent Austin.
Burris played two years in Hamilton, the first a statistically-impressive but ultimately futile 6-12 campaign under then-head coach George Cortez, the second with Austin in 2013. That season ended with a loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Grey Cup game.
The Ticats ultimately decided to let Burris leave via free agency in the off-season, electing to sign former Toronto Argonaut Zach Collaros – who’s more than a decade younger than Burris – as their starting quarterback. Burris said Austin called him to tell him the news just as his wife was reading of the Collaros signing on her iPad.
“The fact that I sent packing that I helped turn organizations around, doing my job both on and off the field, to be sent packing the way that it occurred, as an athlete I always feel its disrespectful,” Burris said. “It is very personal to me. Some people say ‘let it go’ but that’s what motivates some of the best athletes ever. You have to play with a certain chip on their shoulder.”
Burris said his relationship with Ottawa offensive coordinator Jason Maas – another Hamilton quarterback who left the team than less than ideal circumstances – is significantly better than the one he had with Austin.
“I think the difference between Jason and Kent is that Jason and I have a level of respect for each other,” Burris said. “We work together because we want each other to achieve success. In Kent’s system, he wanted his guys and I wasn’t Kent’s guy.”
To this point, the decision to let Burris walk has worked out just fine for both sides. The Ticats made the Grey Cup game for a second straight season in 2014 with Collaros at the helm, ultimately losing to the Calgary Stampeders. This year, Burris has enjoyed one of the best statistical seasons of his career and is up for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award.
Maas has played a prominent role in Burris’ renaissance. A first-year offensive coordinator, Maas has built a system based on the tenets introduced to the CFL by former Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman and also utilized by Toronto’s Scott Milanovich. Maas was an assistant coach in Toronto for three seasons before coming to Ottawa.
It’s built around a series of quick quarterback reads and short, confidence-building throws. It’s helped Burris to post a 70.9 completion percentage in 2015, the highest in his 16 CFL seasons and nearly eight points better than his career average. Also down: his interceptions.
“He’s not a turnover machine at all. Every quarterback throws a bad ball but what we’ve tried to do is is say ‘I want you to make a good decision,’” Maas said. “We tell him never to force it.”
Signed before the 2006 season Maas played in 27 games for the Ticats – winning just five times – before being traded to Montreal in Sept., 2007 after the team signed Casey Printers to replace him. So he knows a little bit about unfortunate departures.
“I left there with my head held high, know that we’ failed but I that I’d done everything possible to help us try and win, it just didn’t work,” Maas said. “It’s easy to move on when you’re not successful, you understand why they are getting rid of you. When you’ve been successful and you’ve taken them to a Grey Cup , that’s totally different.
“It would be hard to understand that decision.”
Burris clearly doesn’t and has opted to use the sleight as fuel. The chance to get the last laugh – or smile – comes Sunday.
Notes: Burris also has more to say on the hit from Simoni Lawrence: “I love Simoni to death and he’s still a great friend to me and on the field I know how he plays. He’s one heck of a player, he’s one hell of a guy. He’s a great stand up guy and I know 20 or 30 years down the road he and I might be like Mosca and Joe Kapp. At least we’ll talk though, we won’t stop talking.”