TORONTO - Just when it looked like the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were going to be forced into Plan B, the Tabbies got their man.
George Cortez wasnít necessarily going to be available for the Ticats but the combination of acquiring a familiar face for Cortez and the willingness of the Hamilton brass to hand over final decision making on all football-personnel matters to him got the job done.
That familiar face, of course, is quarterback Henry Burris who was with Cortez in Calgary. The added clout comes in the head-coach, director-of-football operations title.
Both were key in convincing Cortez to walk away from a $400,000-a-year job as the Bills quarterbacks coach.
For a while there it looked like everyone the Ticats were interested in werenít interested. There was Kent Austin and Dave Dickenson who decided to stay at Cornell and with the Stampeders respectively. Corey Chamblin, who had been their defensive coordinator and was on the interview list for the head coaching job jumped ship to take the head job in Saskatchewan.
Cortez, with 20 years of experience in the CFL and two solid seasons as the Bills quarterbacks coach, didnít look like he would be available. The Bills fired their defensive coordinator and cleaned house on that side of the ball, but retained all their offensive people.
The Tabbies had to wait until the Bills season ended before they could talk with Cortez, which explains the long, drawn-out process.
Cortez has had previous opportunities to be a head coach in the CFL but has always either remained where he was or, as was the case two years ago, jumped to the NFL.
The thinking is this time around Cortez believes he can win with what he has, and Burris has to be a large part of that. With Burris at the helm and Cortez as the offensive coordinator, the Stamps won the 2008 Grey Cup upsetting the favoured Montreal Alouettes on their home turf.
Those are all the positives of the hire. But there are some areas of concern with the hire as well.
First and foremost is the fact that Cortez, even with his vast experience, has never been a head coach. Compounding that is both last yearís offensive coordinator, Khari Jones, and defensive coordinator, Cory Chamblin, have left The Hammer for the wheat fields of Saskatchewan. Compounding that further is the hiring is late enough that even with his extensive relationships, the 20-year veteran will have a tough time filling out his staff.
Donít misinterpret. The Tiger-Cats luring Cortez to Hamilton is a huge coup. He joins a team that is already set to compete for a Grey Cup championship and he only adds to that.
But the feeling here is, Cortez is going to have a learning curve as a head coach. The head coach has duties and responsibilities a coordinator or an assistant rarely has to concern themselves with. Cortez has to be able to get his message across to his players and get them to buy in.
Maybe Cortez makes the transition to head coach seamlessly but itís always nice to at least have one guy on staff who has held the reigns before, if for no other reason than as a sounding board.
If Cortez can find someone like that who can fill that offensive or defensive coordinator role, his chances of that seamless transition go up exponentially.