He's a coach that's a four-time pro football champion. He's tutored the likes of two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia and fast rising NFL signal caller Aaron Rodgers. And in all likelihood most Bills fans won't recognize his name. That doesn't change the fact that Bills quarterbacks coach George Cortez brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to Buffalo's coaching staff at a time when steady guidance at that position might be needed more than ever.
With a coaching career that spans more than 30 years and six different position assignments as well as offensive coordinator, there is little that Cortez has not experienced in preparing a team or a position group for a regular season. The reason he's not a household name is because Cortez did some of his best work north of the border in the CFL.
With 18 years of his coaching career spent in the Canadian league, Cortez was part of four Grey Cup title teams as an assistant coach in Calgary (1992, 1998, 2001, 2008). That kind of success often leads to NFL opportunities, but Cortez did not actively seek out employment in the States.
"I was very content coaching up there," Cortez told Buffalobills.com. "Being successful was certainly a factor in that. There probably was a time earlier in my life that I thought it would be great to go to the NFL, but I was pretty happy with my situation. Calgary was a great place to live."
That all changed though when newly appointed Bills head coach Chan Gailey called.
"There's no doubt I was excited about it," said Cortez. "I think it'll be a good deal here. It's a good staff."
Helping to further develop Jeff Garcia his last year in Calgary before the quarterback made the jump to the NFL was rewarding. He also aided Dave Dickenson in earning the CFL's Most Outstanding Player award when he served as the Stampeders signal caller in 2000. Calgary's offense then ranked first or second in the league in seven different offensive categories.
His ability to help quarterbacks blossom is likely what drew Gailey to Cortez in the first place even though the CFL game is much different from its American counterpart.
"The game is very open because it's only two downs to make 10 yards or you're punting," said Cortez. "The width of the field makes it harder to throw to the wide side of the field. The whole mindset is different and the pace of the game is faster because it's a 20-second play clock. It's fast. It's a big play league."
As a quarterbacks coach however, Cortez will be entrusted more with improving the techniques, decision making and execution of the quarterbacks rather than drawing up ways for them to be most successful.
That's not to say that Cortez hasn't handled both roles in his coaching past. During his time as offensive coordinator at Cal he was also entrusted with quarterback coaching duties. In his four seasons with the Bears he coached Kyle Boller and later Aaron Rodgers.
"Kyle was a great guy to work with and Aaron was a very driven, very talented guy," said Cortez. "He was very driven to be successful. It would have been a shock to me if he wasn't successful."
What Cortez inherits at the quarterback position in Buffalo might be unique to a lot of NFL assistant coaches, but not to him. He's been in situations where there was no clear cut starting quarterback.
Entering the 2003 season at Cal, Cortez had lost Boller to graduation and had his former backup and a junior college transfer in Rodgers, who did not practice with the team until preseason. Fortunately Rodgers stepped up and performed.
The case was much the same for Cortez in Calgary before the 2001 season.
"We had no one that had taken any meaningful snaps at quarterback," he said. "Our most experienced quarterback had 20 snaps in a mop up game the year before. So I know what it's like to have a guy starting where you're not certain how he's going to do."
Cortez's offense got off to a rough start that season. Both of his quarterbacks, Ben Sankey and Marcus Crandall suffered injuries and missed time. The Stampeders lost their first four games. Come the second half of the season however, the offense began to jell.
"Our players never gave up and we were pretty good on defense," he said. "We played really well the last half of the season and got into the playoffs."
When all was said and done Calgary won their third Grey Cup with Cortez on the staff.
The situation in Buffalo is in no way that extreme. Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick have their share of experience and Brian Brohm finally got on the field last season, though it was in far less than ideal circumstances. Still none of the three are truly proven quarterbacks at the NFL level.
Cortez recognizes what has to unfold as the offseason progresses, but he sounds assured.
"Every year is a new year," he said plainly.
Buffalo's quarterbacks coach has become as familiar as possible with each of his field generals, intently reviewing game tape of the last two seasons for all three vets. Rookie Levi Brown's evaluation will take place when he's practicing at the NFL level beginning this weekend.
Cortez has done some classroom work with them to get them familiarized with the playbook. Come the end of Augusthe believes the players will provide the answers on the field.
"At Cal with Aaron and Calgary in '01, we weren't certain what we had there either," he said.
In both cases though, Cortez was instrumental in making it work.