We all saw the rant.
Henry Burris fired a shot across the bow to all his “haters” when he went off during a halftime interview with TSN’s Matthew Scianitti. Burris doubled down with his post-game comments.
The TSN panel fired back in a much more measured, though clearly angry, way. It was riveting television and something that will likely be talked about quite a bit over the next few weeks.
But there was another claim in Burris’ first rant that piqued my interest and one I wanted to investigate further: his claim that he “turned around four teams in this league.”
Sorry, Hank, and you can call me a hater in another halftime rant if you want, but you did not turn around four CFL teams. One, maybe, two if you are being generous and ignoring all the other improvements the team made, but definitely not four.
Henry Burris has played for, and therefore claimed to have turned around, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Calgary Stampeders, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Redblacks. The best place to start is at the beginning with the first team he claimed to turn around, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Burris started his career as a backup in Calgary for a couple of season — the two men he sat behind: Jeff Garcia and Dave Dickenson — before moving on to the Riders in 2000 to become their starter. In 1999, the Riders went an abysmal 3-15 and finished last in the West. In 2000, the Riders improved from abysmal to terrible, finishing last in the West again, but this time with a 5-12-1 record. Not exactly what I would call a turnaround. Burris left Saskatchewan after one season to take his shot in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, with a stint in NFL Europe with the Berlin Thunder before returning to Saskatchewan in 2003.
In 2002, the Riders went 8-10-0-2, finished fourth in the West and crossed over to the East before losing in the East Semi-Final. In 2003, the Riders improved to 11-7 and finished third in the West and lost in the West Final. So I guess Burris did help turn the Riders around. Only one problem, it was Nealon Greene, not Henry Burris, who started most of the games for the Riders in 2003. In 2004, Burris’ final year with the Riders, he became the team’s starter and Saskatchewan went 9-9, a two-win drop-off from the year before, and once again lost in the West Final.
So in Saskatchewan, he notched fewer wins when he was the starter with no Grey Cup appearances, let alone a win, so I don’t see how Burris can claim he turned the Riders around at all.
Burris left Saskatchewan for Calgary in free agency in 2005 and this is the one team you can probably rightfully claim Hank helped turn around. Calgary was a putrid 4-14 in 2004, their third consecutive last-place finish in the West, and the following year the Stamps began their current run of excellence that have seen them make the playoffs 11 straight years, host a playoff game in nine of those years and win two Grey Cups. Burris was great in Calgary, and it would be unfair to say he didn’t play a large part in turning the Stamps from bottom feeder into league powerhouse. He didn’t do it on his own — his arrival coincided with the emergence of guys like Nik Lewis and Joffrey Reynolds — but he was a major part of why Calgary became the franchise they are today.
But it didn’t end well in Calgary for Smilin’ Hank. He was pulled near the end of the 2011 season for ineffective play and was traded to Hamilton for fellow QB Kevin Glenn and OL Mark Dewit in the offseason. Hank had a stellar first year with the Ticats, setting team records in passing yards and passing touchdowns, and guiding the offense to league-leading heights. Here is the thing, though: he didn’t turn them around.
In 2011, the Ticats finish 8-10, but won a playoff game for the first time since 2001 when they beat Montreal in a thrilling East Semi-Final, and lost in the East Final to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. In 2012, Burris’ Ticats team finished 6-12, two games worse than 2011, and despite all the amazing offensive numbers, failed to make the playoffs. It is the only time since 2009 that Hamilton did not play in the post season. So I guess Burris did turn the Ticats around, just not in the direction he is claiming.
The Ticats cleaned house the following offseason, firing George Cortez as head coach and replacing him with Kent Austin. We all know the story. Austin reinvigorates the franchise and guides them to their first Grey Cup appearance since 1999. Yes, Burris was at the controls that season, but it was the Austin hire that turned this team around. He changed the culture of this team, hired great coordinators and brought in players like Simoni Lawrence and C.J. Gable. Proof of this being more about Austin coming on board than anything Burris did comes the following year, when Hank was released, the team signed Zach Collaros and got back to the Grey Cup. The pieces were in place for Hamilton to be successful long term, and it is Austin, not Burris, that turned this team around.
Finally we get to his current team, the Ottawa Redblacks. When Burris was dumped by the Ticats, Ottawa almost immediately signed him. Burris was terrible his first year in Ottawa. His numbers dropped considerably from the previous year and the team struggled to win games, finishing a horrid 2-16. Ottawa was low on talent their first season, but Burris still failed to do much of anything in 2014.
Then we get to last year, and Henry Burris has a career renaissance. He leads the league in passing, wins MOP and gets the Redblacks to the Grey Cup after a 12-6, first-place finish. A remarkable season, no doubt, but Burris does not deserve sole credit for turning that team around. The Redblacks spent lavishly that season, signing a quartet of receivers (Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson, Ernest Jackson and Chris Williams) that all finished with over 1,000 yards receiving, a hulking left tackle (SirVincent Rogers) to fix their offensive line and a pass rush demon (Shawn Lemon) midway through the season to solidify their pass rush. They also got career years out of Justin Capiccotti and Keith Shologan, as well as better player from a game-proven secondary. It, along with some lucky breaks, allowed Ottawa to scale the heights that it did. Burris had a good year, but he was not the only reason Ottawa went from laughingstock to Grey Cup finalist.
So if we look at the scorecard, we can give Burris credit for turning the Stamps around and partial credit for his work in Ottawa. That makes, at best, two teams Burris turned around. The other two, Saskatchewan and Hamilton, not so much.