TORONTO — When the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ regime changed, so did the team’s fortunes.
That is hardly coincidental, according to Calgary Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris, who played under head coach Danny Barrett and general manager Roy Shivers with the Roughriders.
Shivers and Barrett were replaced by Eric Tillman and Kent Austin, respectively, in 2006. Saskatchewan has advanced to the 2007 Grey Cup in its first full season under Tillman and Austin.
“From the top down, this team is complete now,” Burris said. “There were problems at the top with Roy and those guys and it was something that wasn’t hidden.
“It was definitely out there in the public eye but now, with Eric and Kent on board, you can definitely see the change in the locker room from the type of players they have and the type of discipline and focus this team has.”
How did Tillman and Austin make those alterations?
“I think first and foremost, they got guys’ attention when they first stepped in-house,” Burris said. “They made some moves and made some statements about guys that got everybody’s attention, just to show them that, ‘Hey, if you aren’t going to buy into what we’re trying to build here, we don’t need you. We can always go out there and find somebody who’s going to buy into what we’re doing.’
“It was a totally different regime change — a totally different direction as far as the way everything was going to be run in the organization. There was much more professionalism involved. I’m not saying Roy and Danny weren’t professional but, just the way everything has been directed, you can just see that from the outside as far as from the other sideline and things like that.”
Burris noticed the difference Nov. 11, when Saskatchewan defeated Calgary 26-24 in the West Division semifinal — the Roughriders’ first home playoff game since 1988.
“Guys are disciplined. Guys are focused. They’re on top of their job assignments as well as how they conduct themselves off the field,” Burris said. “You don’t hear all the things in the paper that you heard in the past about players.
“They’re bringing in the right players. They’re making sure that the players who might have had troubled pasts and things like that have corrected those pasts, or they’ve gotten rid of them. They’ve done a great job towards those angles and that’s why they’ve been given the respect they’ve been given across the league and that’s why they’ve been successful.”
Burris played under Barrett and Shivers during the 2000, 2003 and 2004 CFL seasons before signing with Calgary as a free agent in 2005.
“When I left, Roy and Danny were there for another year or so,” Burris said. “I really don’t know what was going on at that time, but there was just the fact that a lot of guys were ready to get out of there. A lot of things were taking place on the inside. It was really tough to explain, but there was a reason why guys wanted to leave. You have to enjoy who you work for.
“With saying that, Roy was a great guy and he was a real good friend, but once he became GM, things took a turn for the worse in certain ways. I’ll always appreciate everything he’s done for me. With the fact that he brings talent in, there’s probably nobody like him as far as his impact on the league. Along those lines, I respect him, but it’s two different worlds as far as who you work for and what they do.”
Burris is in Toronto to work as a football analyst with The Score during Grey Cup week. Saskatchewan is to oppose the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for CFL supremacy Sunday at the Rogers Centre.
The Stampeders’ pivot notes that it will be “bittersweet” to watch the Grey Cup, considering how much he wanted to be there as a player. At the same time, he wants to see his former teammates fare well.
“These guys have put so much time into this and went through so much turmoil there as far as in-house with the organization, but great things have come with change,” Burris said. “They put the right guys in the right place and that’s why this organization is successful now.”