Henry Burris and Rick Campbell are back together.
Campbell, the head coach/co-general manager of the BC Lions, hired Burris on Tuesday as an offensive consultant. Burris ended his CFL career playing for Campbell in Ottawa, leading the Redblacks to a 2016 Gray Cup victory in the final game of his Canadian Football Hall of Fame career.
Burris returns to the CFL after spending two seasons on the Chicago Bears coaching staff. He was a seasonal training assistant in 2020 before being named offensive quality control coach last year.
Burris said he had accepted coaching offers from both sides of the border, but his familiarity with Campbell played a major role in his decision.
“It was huge,” Burris said. “Rick is so cool, calm and laid back? and watching him celebrate in 2016 after winning the Gray Cup always brings tears to my eyes.
“He’s a guy who never gets too high or too low but to finally see him come out of his shell after we win, I want to help him get back to that. I want to be in his place one day, I want to be a head coach? the best way to learn is to learn from the greats, right? Rick Campbell is one of those in my book.”
Burris finished his CFL career in style, passing for 461 yards and three touchdowns as he led the Reds to a 39-33 Gray Cup overtime win over Calgary. It was Ottawa’s first football championship in 40 years.
Campbell was Ottawa’s head coach from 2014 to 2019. He joined the Lions in 2020 _ CFL did not play that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic _ but BC (5-9) finished fourth in the West Division last year.
“Henry is a terrific addition to our coaching staff,” Campbell said in a statement. “His knowledge, experience and communication skills will be a huge asset to our quarterbacks and the entire offense.”
Burris will be responsible for teaching a young group of BC quarterbacks after two-time Gray Cup champion and former CFL Most Valuable Player Mike Reilly retired at the end of the season. Sophomore Nathan Rourke, a 23-year-old native of Victoria, has been promoted to No.1.
Behind Rourke are fellow Canadian Michael O’Connor, former Saskatchewan Roughrider Issac Harker and second Kevin Thomson. All three are only 26 years old.
“Working with quarterbacks has been my life,” Burris said. “I have this wealth of knowledge and I need to pass it on to someone because I mean, I’m getting old and I need to share all the things I’ve learned.”
Burris, 46, certainly has plenty of experience to draw on. He was a CFL quarterback with Calgary (1997-99, 2005-11), Saskatchewan (2000, 2003-04), Hamilton (2012-13) and Ottawa (2014-16) while spending time in the NFL with Green Bay (2001) and Chicago (2002).
Twice Burris was the CFL’s Most Valuable Player (2010, 2015) and won three Gray Cups (1998, 2008, 2016). He was the best player of the match twice.
Burris finished his career with 63,227 passing yards (third all-time) and 374 touchdowns (third overall). He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2020.
Rourke, six-foot-two, 209 pounds, started two of 13 games he played last season as a CFL rookie. He completed 52 of 82 passes (63.4%) for 754 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions while rushing 18 times for 111 yards (average 6.2 yards) and five touchdowns.
Rourke started BC’s 33-29 loss to Saskatchewan on August 6 before Reilly started the second half. Rourke completed 23 of 34 passes for 359 yards and a touchdown and rushed seven times for 34 yards and three touchdowns in the Lions’ 43-10 home win over Edmonton on Nov. 19.
“He got to see the field for a whole year and make the adjustments coming from Ohio,” Burris said of Rourke. “You have to make good decisions and it’s all in your hands as to whether the team is going to win or lose…and I think he made those adjustments.”
Burris is also high on the six-foot-four, 230-pound O’Connor, an Ottawa native who is already with his third CFL team (Toronto in 2019-20, Calgary last year). The former UBC star attended the 2016 Lions training camp as part of the Canadian quarterback internship program.
“Michael is a guy, to me, that has a wealth of talent, a wealth of ability,” Burris said. “He was put in a good position by Rick to come and compete.
‘You are going to go through tough times, can you learn from those tough times and be able to come out of them? II just want to serve these young men? and help them find a simple and effective way to grow and be the best of them.”
Burris will travel to Vancouver later this month for staff meetings, then return to British Columbia for training camp in May. His family, however, will remain in Chicago and Burris himself will not be with the Lions daily during the season, but will only be a phone or zoom call away.
“I will always be here, working remotely,” he said. “I’ll be sure to do zoom calls with the quarterbacks and talk about things we rehearse during training camp so there’s always constant communication.”