Tiger-Cats coaches rip rift rumour

Tiger-Cats head coach George Cortez is “flabbergasted” by comments he is at odds with defensive...

Tiger-Cats head coach George Cortez is “flabbergasted” by comments he is at odds with defensive co-ordinator Casey Creehan and that he is losing control of the team. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:36 PM ET

HAMILTON - George Cortez is two weeks into his first season as head coach of the Hamilton Ticats; just days before a game that could tilt this season on a downward spiral to despair.

On the flip side, a victory over the arch-rival Argonauts would fall on The Hammer like a gentle rain of absolution.

But the biggest question Thursday wasn’t how he was hoping to stop league-leading quarterback Ricky Ray.

It wasn’t about Toronto’s suddenly revitalized passing attack. There were no queries about tripping up Chad Owens.

Nothing so mundane.

The one and only topic was whether general manager Bob O’Billovich was going to have to set up a cage match between head coach George (Killer) Cortez and his defensive co-ordinator Casey (Crusher) Creehan.

“Are you kidding! There’s no stock in this,” Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris said, after player agent Darren Gill suggested on a Montreal radio show that Cortez was losing the dressing room and that a rift had developed between the head coach and Creehan.

“I’m not going to tell you that there’s major problems in that locker room but they are certainly starting,” Gill, who represents several Ticats told Team 990 Radio. “George Cortez is not known as a players’ coach and that’s been known from day one. He’s not brought the veterans on his side and it’s made it very difficult for him to try and get that team on the right page.”

There is, naturally, plenty of ammunition these early days for taking potshots at Cortez, Creehan, or anyone else sporting black and gold, as the Ticats’ sit winless in two with the resurgent Argonauts coming knocking on Ivor Wynne’s door Saturday. In that respect, Gill perhaps may be correct that there is a sense of uneasiness permeating the dressing room.

But if there is a major rift, it was heartily denied by everyone in The Hammer this side of the press box cleaning lady. “I wouldn’t pay to see George or Casey Creehan fight,” joked Burris of his altitudinally-challenged coaches, “because that would be the worst fight I could possibly ever see.”

Creehan wouldn’t be blamed for feeling a little besieged. In his first two games as the club’s new defensive guru, his team has been blitzed for 43 and 39 points, and now he’s being fingered as the sharp edge of the wedge in football’s version of political intrigue. “There’s been some pretty well known confrontations in that team’s locker room between George Cortez and defensive co-ordinator Casey Creehan,” Gill said. “They’re not on the same page.”

Reaction was swift and prescient: Cortez denied any problem exists between himself and Creehan. Burris denied there are conflicts between the players and Cortez. But then, they don’t call him Smilin’ Hank for nothing. Creehan denied any conflict. Vehemently.

Unlike Burris, he was not a happy man Thursday. “This is a totally fabricated thing that I have no clue where it could possibly have come from,” Creehan told reporters.

“I have a boss and that’s it. He’s the boss. What he says goes. As an assistant I don’t have a leg to stand on if he tells me something. We have not had any disagreements.

“If he said something I disagreed with, which he hasn’t, I would listen because he is the boss.”

Life with the Ticats may not always be happy but it is never dull. The latest incident comes after Cortez pulled Burris from a game — which makes Gill’s remarks seem plausible if not gospel.

Gill told the radio station: “It’s an amazing situation. Hamilton is experiencing some early struggles. In the off-season there was a lot of talk about the head coaching moves that happened around the league. Obviously, so far in Saskatchewan it’s worked out. In Hamilton thus far it hasn’t.

“... The quarterback and the coach aren’t on the same page.”

Cortez said he was “flabbergasted” when told of the comments. And, while he dismissed them as untrue he considered it important enough that he talked to the players after Thursday’s practice. “I think the guys that have been here know me well enough. First, They know (a rift with Creehan) hasn’t happened. The part with Henry it never crossed my mind there was a problem. I knew I was going to put him back in the third quarter.”

Burris, meantime, suggested Gill is doing nothing other than stirring a witch’s brew.

“You know what agents do? Who does he represent? What if one of his players didn’t get signed by the Ticats? What if there’s ruffled feathers? Sometimes there’s vested interests,” said Burris.

Gill did issue an apology late Thursday night.

“I’d like to sincerely apologize to George Cortez, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and most importantly Casey Creehan for the remarks I made on a Montreal radio station on Wednesday. I became caught up in the moment and inadvertently said some things that were inappropriate,” he wrote on scratchingpost.thespec.com.

So, how about the game? And, those Argos?

“This is not,” said Cortez, “a distraction.” Of course, on this day, maybe Gill wasn't the only one who might be suspected of stretching the truth higher than a Josh Bartel punt.


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