While the Montreal Alouettes were bringing in well-known players Monday, the Saskatchewan Roughriders made a splashy hire of their own—at offensive coordinator. The Riders have brought in former Hamilton head coach and offensive coordinator George Cortez, who was turfed by the Tiger-Cats in December after just one season. It's a big move, and it's one that could work out very well. Offensive coordinator might be the perfect CFL role for Cortez, and if he's able to translate the success his offence had in Hamilton to the prairies, it could be an excellent year for the Roughriders.
Cortez lost his job this winter, but that wasn't really a reflection on his offensive abilities. He ran the league's best offence in 2012 by points scored per game (29.9) and its second-best offence by yards per game (378.6). He was rightly pilloried as a head coach for his lack of oversight of Hamilton's league-worst defence (and his refusal to change coordinators), plus his game-management struggles, but there's a strong argument to be made that his performance with the Tiger-Cats was impressive enough to give him more than one season to figure the head-coaching job out, and it's quite possible that he would have received more than one season if Hamilton hadn't been dead-set on bringing in Kent Austin. Still, while it may be up for debate whether Cortez can be a capable head coach, it's definitely hard to question his record as an offensive coordinator. In addition to his last stint with Hamilton, he has over three decades of experience as an offensive coach in the CFL, NFL and NCAA and has led some remarkably impressive offences during that time.
Success in Hamilton doesn't necessarily mean Cortez will be a great fit for the Riders, but there are plenty of signs that this might work out. There are plenty of similarities between Tiger-Cats' quarterback Henry Burris and Riders' quarterback Darian Durant, both guys with terrific arms who can scramble a bit to avoid pressure. While Durant hasn't been as dominant as he was before over the last two years, it's worth noting that Burris' career seemed to be in the tank before he went to Hamilton, and under Cortez, he put up one of the best statistical seasons of his career and had a strong case to be named a league all-star (although the voters snubbed him). Burris led the CFL in both passing yards (5,367) and touchdowns (43) in 2012 while putting up a solid completion percentage of 64.7 per cent.
Moreover, Saskatchewan's receiving corps is very similar to Hamilton's; it's a deep group where the ball will have to be spread around and where the quarterback should have plenty of options on most plays, something Cortez's offence does well with. Durant has the skills to fit nicely into a Cortez offence, and he's even a better runner than Burris. Burris picked up 343 rushing yards on 45 carries last season, but Durant got 342 on just 32 carries, an average of 10.7 yards per rush. Durant is also a more accurate quarterback in general than Burris; although he completed 64.4 per cent of his passes last year, his career percentage is 61.5 per cent versus Burris' 60.8 per cent, so that might make him even a better fit for the accuracy-focused elements in a Cortez offence. If Cortez can tweak his system for the Riders' personnel, this could be a perfect match for both sides.