Former CFL quarterback Henry Burris is lobbying for a return to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, this time as head coach.
“It’s an exciting opportunity if there is an opportunity. Again, I’ve yet to have a talk with anybody. There’s been some messaging but again, there’s been no formal talks,” Burris acknowledged.
“It’s definitely a position that I’m more than interested in. To me, it’s the flagship organization of the Canadian Football League and the mindset has to be just that. It’s the cornerstone of the league and when the Riders are doing great, the CFL is doing great. Get the team back to where it truthfully belongs and that’s up top.”
Burris had two stints in Saskatchewan during his 20-year professional career, arriving in 2000 for his first opportunity as a full-time starter. He threw for 4,647 yards, 30 touchdowns and 25 interceptions en route to a last-place place finish, but earned an NFL opportunity that offseason and jumped to the Green Bay Packers.
After stays with the Chicago Bears and Berlin Thunder, Burris returned to the Riders in 2003 and initially backed up Nealon Greene. He took back over as starter in 2004, tossing for 4,267 yards, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while leading the team to the West Final, but scorned Saskatchewan the following offseason to sign with the Calgary Stampeders.
That has long resulted in bad blood with Rider Nation, though the idea of a potential return has generally been met with a positive response.
“I’m actually happy that it’s for good reason that my name is being mentioned in Regina,” Burris laughed. “We have such a great history and a history that I know my wife and I, we always document very well that we had unfinished business there. Especially when we were part of the Rider family and played there and just didn’t get a chance to win that Grey Cup.”
Following his time with the Riders, Burris played 11 more seasons with the Stampeders, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Redblacks, retiring following the 2016 season with 63,369 passing yards, 373 touchdowns, and 227 interceptions. After a brief foray into broadcasting, he has since turned his attention to coaching, first earning an opportunity with the Chicago Bears in 2020 as part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship.
After sticking with the Bears all year as a seasonal coaching assistant, Burris was promoted to offensive quality control coach in 2021. After he was let go as part of a house cleaning in Chicago, the American-Canadian dual citizen was hired by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the same capacity. He most recently spent training camp with the Los Angeles Rams in 2023 as a tight ends coach, but was not retained for the regular season.
Despite his relatively short coaching resume, Burris believes he is more than ready to take on a top job in the CFL.
“If there’s a quarterback who played 20 years, what’s the difference between that young man and a head coach? Not much difference but the fact is when I made calls, if they weren’t good, I got hit as far as the response,” he insisted.
“I understand the feeling of playing the position, I understand being on the other side of the ball, and I also understand the feeling of when things are not so good for you and that’s definitely a position I will not put our players in.”
During his short time in the NFL, Burris has worked under Matt Nagy — now offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs — and a pair of Super Bowl-winning head coaches in Doug Pederson and Sean McVay. The latter provides a particular source of inspiration, as McVay was just 31 years old when he took over the Rams and quickly silenced critics who called out his inexperience.
“You’re gonna have people that are for you and always against you, and a lot of times you’ve gotta go out and prove people wrong as far as when you make those big jumps,” Burris said.
“I know a lot of people say that I have no prior head coaching experience. Well, I don’t think any first-time head coaches had prior head coaching experience until they were actually given the opportunity and that goes for myself and everybody.”
Burris nearly returned to the CFL ahead of the 2022 season, signing on as an offensive consultant with the B.C. Lions with the intention to tutor quarterback Nathan Rourke remotely from his home in the United States. That arrangement lasted just 10 days before the Jaguars came calling and he was released to pursue a better opportunity.
If he were to come back to Canada in a more significant capacity, Burris promises there will not be a similarly quick exit.
“When I played, did I do that? I came up there to pretty much devote myself to every God-given community and market that gave us the opportunity to play the beautiful game,” he said. “When it comes to the opportunity to coach, we have the same mindset as well.”
Whether that opportunity will be in Regina comes down to general manager Jeremy O’Day, Burris’ former Rider teammate. He is expected to undertake an extensive head coaching search after moving on from Craig Dickenson following consecutive 6-12 seasons.
That has not yet included a conversation with Burris but he believes that allowing time for the situation to settle is essential. If a formal interview comes, he’ll listen to whatever role the team would be interested in him for — head coach or otherwise.
“I’m open to whatever it might be. My ears are always open to whatever opportunities are out there,” Burris said. “I’ve talked to people in the past but in the past, was it the right time? Probably not. Because I had great opportunities, and I was in positions and I wanted to show my commitment to the organizations that had me within the fold and I was willing to grow within those organizations.”