Prior to his current job as the head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Kent Austin, a former all-star quarterback himself, has had two other opportunities to work closely with quarterbacks in the CFL, and on both occasions, those QB's were named the league's Outstanding Player.
In 2005 as the offensive coordinator in Toronto, he worked with the veteran Damon Allen, who was entering his 21st year in the CFL. For two decades the much-maligned Allen had fought for respect from his critics, who had always called him a great athlete and runner but seldom mentioned his passing skills. Prior to that memorable season Allen had played in Edmonton, Memphis, Ottawa, Hamilton, Toronto and BC and in 20 years had averaged 202 yards/game passing, and had only thrown over 25 touchdowns in a single season once.
Enter Kent Austin, a quarterback himself for BC and Saskatchewan, and one of only four players to ever have a 6,000-plus yard passing season. In 2005 with the Argos, Allen threw for 5,082 yards, a career best. He found the end zone 33 times on the season. He also wasn't told to change his style and eliminate his running talent - instead he was instructed to complement it with a concerted effort to improve his passing accuracy. Allen would comment that year that, "he had never worked with a coach that held him that accountable before." Allen would go on to say that, "coach Kent would stand behind him in practice early on and quiz him after every throw, asking what did you see, what was the read, and where should you go with the ball," and expected immediate answers.
That year Allen was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player.
In the 2007 season Austin landed the head coaching job in Saskatchewan and had even more say as to which quarterback would start, and how that pivot would be handled and coached, and for Austin, that meant a hands on approach.
That year his student would be Kerry Joseph again, a QB that was an athlete first and a quarterback second according to the media. Joseph was a former safety in his NFL days but was able to play his favourite position when arriving in Ottawa in 2003. Over the course of four years as a starter Joseph, much like Allen at that time, was being praised for his ability to run the ball, but there were very few mentions of his passing prowess. Joseph was averaging 236 yards passing per game prior to 2007, and had averaged 19.8 TD's/year for the four seasons.
Enter Austin, who Joseph says, "expanded my knowledge of the game, and took my mental game to a whole new level."
According to KJ, Austin was a perfectionist in practice, always making sure he understood what to do with the football on every play. "Coach Austin would always say, 'you have to know on every play where you should be going with the football'," Joseph recalled.
The quarterback knowing what he should be doing with the ball is at times different than what he actually does with the ball, even on successful plays. Just because a QB finds an open receiver for a long TD, or scrambles to buy time, and makes a play down the field doesn't necessarily mean it was what he should have done with the ball. Joseph while playing for Austin had to know what he should have done with it on every play, despite the outcome of the play.
In 2007 the Riders would win their third Grey Cup in franchise history, and Kerry Joseph won the league's Most Outstanding Player award.
What does all this mean for Henry Burris? Well it is hard to imagine that Burris could improve on his numbers from last year. He threw for a league-leading 5,367 yards and 43 touchdowns, both personal bests. However if there is anyone that could coach an even better year out of Burris it would be Kent Austin. After Austin signed in Hamilton, Joseph sent a text to Burris and congratulated him for getting Austin as his coach, and told him to prepare for his best year ever.
In 2012 the MOP in the CFL was Chad Owens, and no player deserved it more. When you average over 200 yards per game you are the most outstanding player in the league. However, if in 2013 Burris stays healthy, and like Allen in '05, and Joseph in '07, takes his "mental game" to a whole new level, he just may add a second MOP award to his resume.