The guy calling plays from the spotter’s booth hasn’t been up there in seven years, while the guy running the show from the sidelines will be doing it for the first time in his career.
And the Tiger-Cats’ reaction to this widely-discussed procedural wrinkle for Saturday’s game against an opponent that is undefeated since Canada Day?
Just business as unusual.
When the Calgary Stampeders come into town for Saturday’s late matinee, Hamilton head coach and play caller Kent Austin will be banished to the spotter’s booth on the seventh floor of Tim Hortons Field: the farthest point from the playing turf.
After unintentionally striking the hand of a game official in Saskatchewan last weekend Austin has been fined $10,000 and removed from the sidelines – the organization is quick to point out he wasn’t suspended – for Saturday’s game, although he may send in plays from the booth and make all the decisions that head coaches normally do.
Offensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer, who’s been a head-coach-in-waiting for a couple of years, will double up as sideline boss and will be in constant communication with Austin via one of the six headsets each CFL team is allotted.
“I’ll call everything from the booth and be in communication with O for things like challenges and penalties,” said Austin, adding that third-string quarterback Jeff Matthews will also wear a headset, as a backup facilitator.
“The issue would be if we lose communication and we have to send in plays.”
That would normally happen by Austin hand-signaling to Collaros, but Austin will be too far away so, he says, “we have contingencies for that. It’s jerry-rigged a bit.”
One possible scenario, Austin says, would be to have binoculars on the bench and a whiteboard upstairs on which he would write the play number. But it all would have to be done very quickly. Maybe too quickly, it says here.
And even though the chances of that playing out are small, the technician in charge of headsets suddenly seems to be as important as anyone in the house.
Austin says there are other issues with him not being on the sidelines, where he has been throughout his head coaching tenures at Cornell and in Hamilton. The last time he called plays from aloft was at Ole Miss in 2009.
“You’re more in the action,” he says of being on the sidelines. “You get a better feel for the complexion of the game that is playing out in front of you, momentum swings, things of that nature.”
He also explains that on the sideline a coach gets a sense of the collective mood of the team and when it needs a little head message.
“It’s not a perfect science by any stretch,” he said after Thursday’s wet and rainy practice.
“Sometimes you have to do something to pick our guys up…..and you lose the feel for that if you’re not down there. But O will be there, and talking with me and he’s got a good feel for those things.”
Collaros said Austin’s physical location should have no impact on his game and some players pointed out that the head coach tends to give them space and if he needs to communicate something to them during a game, will often do it through their position coaches.
The unflappable Steinauer will be running the first sideline in his pro coaching career but isn’t worried at all.
“I’m running the defence and that’s still my focus, but there will be added responsibilities. Challenges, penalties, etc., but you can’t control how many of those there will be.”
Give the league-wide publicity afforded the Austin situation, and the camera attention that is surely to be centred on who’s on the sidelines and who isn’t, one could forgive Steinauer for being a little anxious.
“I’m not,” he said. “I’m at peace, I’m calm. I’ll be surrounded by the other coaches. The difference is that Kent won’t be over to my left or right.
“But he’s an earshot away.”
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