On tension and Ticat turnarounds

Among those inclined towards optimism, much has been made of the Ticats’ slow starts in 2013 and 2014 when the club stumbled out of the gate only to make back-to-back Grey Cup appearances. Certainly, the thinking goes, head coach Kent Austin can find a way to produce a similar quasi-miracle.

But 2017  is a very different beast.

The Ticats are 0-3 after losing 41-26 to the B.C. Lions in Saturday’s night home opener. There were signs of improvement – some moments of offensive production, better protection for quarterback Zach Collaros, three first-half turnovers from the defence – but it wasn’t nearly enough against the well-oiled Lions, who rolled despite losing starting quarterback Jonathon Jennings on their opening series. Veteran back up Travis Lulay strafed the beleaguered Hamilton secondary to the tune of 436 yards (a CFL record for a relief appearance) and the Ticats have now surrendered an astonishing 1,322 yards passing through the first three weeks.

In 2013, Hamilton started 1-4 before winning nine of their last 13 to finish 10-8, won an OT squeaker against Montreal in the East Semi then rolled Toronto at the Rogers Centre to make the Grey Cup. Austin and his entire coaching staff were brand new and there were the inevitable growing pains brought on by a new philosophy, not to mention offensive and defensive systems and terminology: the struggles were, in many respects, perfectly understandable.

The following year, the Ticats were 1-6 after seven games. But Collaros was injured in week two and missed five games and the team went 8-3 after his return to action, sparking a second run to the championship game. There’s no saviour to wait for this time around.

Much has changed since then. There are just nine players currently on the roster who were here for both those seasons, seven more who played in 2014: the rest of these current Ticats have no memory of those remarkable comebacks.

The coaching staffs are very different, too. Just four assistants are left from 2013 while two key pieces – former offensive coordinator Tommy Condell and defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer – are no longer with the club. Both men coached with a relentless positivity that seems largely absent with the current group, allowing Austin’s trademark intensity to become even more prominent. Collaros and Condell were particularly close and Steinauer was excellent at developing a bond with his players: Austin’s personality doesn’t necessarily lend itself to those types of relationships.

TSN analyst Glen Suitor, a former Austin teammate, gave a radio interview in the lead up to the B.C. game in which he alleged that the team missed Condell’s presence and there was “tension” between Collaros and Austin. Both men denied it, Austin in the strongest possible terms.

“There’s absolutely zero tension. Don’t even give my answer to Zach and ask him point blank. There’s no tension between me and Zach. We’ve never had tension,” Austin said in his post-game presser Saturday night. “That’s absolutely ridiculous and completely made up by Glen and he ought to be ashamed of himself.”

If there are differences, they certainly aren’t personal. While the two men aren’t besties – again, that isn’t Austin’s style – sources say there has never been open hostility between them. But both have strong opinions about the nature of offensive football, philosophies that may not exactly line up. While there may not be tension in the traditional sense, there could very well be a disconnect that didn’t exist, or it wasn’t as prominent, in 2014.

Nobody was seriously calling for Austin’s head that season, either. That’s certainly changed, as the call-in shows and message boards are filled with Ticat fans inclined to show Austin the door.

They’re likely to be disappointed, however. Getting rid of Austin mid-season would throw both the coaching staff and the front office into chaos and there’s no obvious internal candidate to patrol the sidelines. He’s also under contract for two more years in excess of $500,000 per season, making it an extremely expensive proposition as well.

No, Austin will get the chance to recreate the magic runs of 2013 and 2014 – albeit with a very different cast and under very different circumstances.

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
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Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1106 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

53 Comments on On tension and Ticat turnarounds

  1. Nanaman // July 17, 2017 at 8:04 am //

    It’d be ideal if the Cats could find a way to get Steinauer out of his contact before the college season begins.

    Offer him full reins on the head coaching job and allow him to pick his own coaching staff

    But we know that’s highly unlikely…

    So KA is there for two years, and he may need to rethink his approach and/or humbly relegate his position.

    There’s just something not right with the team. I don’t see the same camaraderie. The players used to come out with such enthusiasm and their chants led by Simoni were catchy and motivating. Sadly, for them, I don’t see that.

    • Naman. Steinhauer DID NOT leave because of any relationship issues with Austin. He left because he got a tremendous offer from Fresno. Unlike Pro Ball coaches at US colleges don’t have to contend with fans with short memories demanding “fire the coach” after every loss.

      • Nanaman // July 17, 2017 at 2:44 pm //

        Sorry..
        Never meant to imply he left cause of Austin. I’m saying Steinauer as coach, with Austin overseeing him in some capacity.
        I like Austin.

        • GoCats! // July 19, 2017 at 4:34 pm //

          Problem is … Austin knows Steinauer wants to be HC and wanted to apply for the Eskies HC position despite his contract having a “no move” clause.

          It seems clear Austin wants to be HC for a while yet instead of an overseer.

  2. You may find players not wanting to play for Austin soon and that poses another major problem . I don’t think firing Austin is the answer but I’m not a football genius either so not sure what they do at this point to turn things around. Maybe everything will be ok once kenneh Davis and butler back from injury.because it seems the offence is slowly improving but the defence cannot hold team’s to less than 400 or more yards per game .Ethan Davis and gable should be released soon

  3. Ticats1 // July 17, 2017 at 8:31 am //

    Yes the Cats have looked terrible in all 3 phases of the game but get rid of Austin ? come on. Being a cfl fan all my life I know it’s the teams that finish strong that have a good chance of success and that’s exactly what I’ve seen from Kent Austin coached teams, no matter how they’ve started he always has them competing for the playoffs. Let’s face it with a couple of breaks the Cats could of went to 4 Grey Cups in a row. I don’t think this year will be any different.

  4. Bring in offensive and defensive consultants to assist Coach Austin, Coach Reinbold and Coach Ptaszek. Bring Tom Clements as the offensive consultant and Greg Marshall as the defensive consultant and have Coach Austin refrain from getting involved in any offensive or defensive play calling and in doing so totally focus on head coaching and throwing challenge flags which have been virtually, non-existant.

    • Marc Lebut // July 19, 2017 at 2:08 pm //

      Easier said than done.

      • GoCats! // July 19, 2017 at 4:38 pm //

        Biggest barrier IMO is getting Austin to refrain from dictating “his offense” be played.

        Next question is what other roles Clements and Marshall are being offered/would happy with. I doubt “consultant” is one they would jump at.

  5. Kent Austin nobody wants you here so do us a favor leave now.

  6. Harebare // July 17, 2017 at 9:39 am //

    FRom what I saw on Saturday night, our Offense seems to be gelling. With that happening, maybewe could dust off the playbook and add a few wrinkles? I’m the farhtest thing from being an expert, but this offense is pretty vanilla. I’m not advocating throwing a bunch of gadget plays in, but maybe we could stand to be a little more creative on the ground game. I am at a loss of how to do it, but we need to find away to take some of the pressure off our secondary. They are getting ppicked apart something awful. Could we maybe drop lanebackers into coverge or something like that?

  7. RalphInTheCreek // July 17, 2017 at 10:42 am //

    We made that little weasel Lulay look like Tom Brady. Embarrassing to be a Ham fan.

    • Lulay is a talented QB no matter who he’s playing. That’s true despite the fact he hasn’t had a chance to show it since Jennings won the starting job. I think he deserves some respect.

      As a Cats fan I’m disappointed in our team’s performance, glimmers of hope aside. But not embarrassed.

  8. The Ticats gave up over 500 yards passing against the Argos, gave up almost 500 yards to the Riders and 436 yards against the Lions.
    Not sure about “gelling” against the Lions, I saw some huge gains by Collaros that were blown coverages where the Ticat receivers were wide open.

  9. Even TSN analysts said with the 2 starting halfbacks missing (Kaneh & Davis) that really screws up a defence. The secondary has been bad for quite awhile though. Usually having depth is Tillman’s strength

  10. frank emil sabados // July 17, 2017 at 11:47 am //

    Austin must go, but it won t happen until the end of the season

    • It wont haopen then either he has two more years left in a 500000 a year contract. Besides its your opinion that he must go not all the fans.

  11. Pardon my forgetfulness but did Kaneh get hurt in camp, in the off season or was he damaged goods? Just wondering.

    • I’ve been searching for an answer to this way too long, making me think if it was worth while or not. I’ll eat my words when he preforms in his first game back.

    • Camp injury, I believe.

  12. Austin is a proven winner but can’t go out there and physically play. Once 4 key injured players are back, 2 receivers and 2 DB’s, the team will start to turn..

  13. Millsie // July 17, 2017 at 1:20 pm //

    Everyone is feeling the pinch. The Players are tighter than I’ve ever seen them. The Coaching Staff is feeling the Heat behind closed doors… I truly believe that.
    It’s time for Eric Tillman to settle things down in the Locker Room and in the Coaches office.
    There’s still a lot of season left, and undoubtedly personnel changes are looming. Give C.J. another chance. He’s talented, but there hasn’t been a lot in the way of blocking from our “O Line”. As injured players start to slip back into the Dressing Room, and possibly some cuts from the NFL start filtering their way north of the 49th parallel we could see some improvement before Playoff time….. HOPEFULLY

    • The offensive line played just fine last game with Swindle sitting out. It gave enough protection and open holes for the running game.

  14. Obviously Ti-Cats need to run the ball more and stick to having a ground game that is at least a threat. O Line is not good enough to go pass pro for entire quarters at a time. Four two and outs in a row is awful and hurts the D. That being said, the D is god awful. Chick and Tracy need to get pressure. Maybe more twists, stunts or 5 man pressures need to be called. I would like to see the breakdown of number of pass rushers sent on second and plus 5 to go. Secondary is getting picked apart. This goes hand in hand with lack of pressure on QB. I honestly think Reinbold will be he coach to get the axe . He appears to be in over his head as a DC. Obviously Davis and Kanneh will help but there is more wrong than two DBs. And Craig Butler has seldom played for two years. Defensive issues cannot be blamed on him. Lawrence, Laurent , Deane, C. Stephen are all good football players. Chick is a hall of Famer. Players gotta make plays but defensive schemes and game plans need tweaking also.

  15. 3 games in and there’s no reason to panic. The team has yet to show us more than a couple of quarters of good play, but lots of time to turn things around.

    The schedule isn’t friendly for that in the next few weeks though. BC is a great team, now we face Edmonton twice and Calgary in the next 3 games. So some tough opponents on the way and wins will take a complete team effort and some luck. Show us something more, boys.

  16. Bottom line is Austin refuses to stick with what works like running the ball, and does not use his players to their strengths. Keeps playing Jr. Collins for who knows why and sits a player Like Elliot.

    The D had success playing man and rushing the qb then went to zone and got torched.

  17. bigplay // July 17, 2017 at 8:12 pm //

    I can not believe how many on here Defend Austin like a Savior and still believe this season is salvageable.First Austin is not that great of a Coach his regular season record in the CFL is 48 wins and 45 loses,after thursday he will only be 2 games over .500 compare that to Buono,Hufnagel,Trestman and Dickenson he is not a elite level Coach in this League.When Condell was here Collaros was playing at a MOP level,without Condell Collaros struggled last year and this year.IN 2013 and 2014 the East was very weak no Trestman,2014 Redblacks first year they finished 2 and 16.This year same as last probably only two east Teams make the playoffs the Redblacks are defending Champs and have still looked good 3 loses by a combined 7 points will start to win the Argos have 2 wins they have Trestman and already kicked the bleep out of the Cats hell the Alouettes have 2 wins already and one was against the Stamps, Austin Has not even beat the Stamps as Cats HC.The Riders were the worst team in the last two seasons and they have already kicked the bleep out of the Cats.The Cats are 0 and 3 have been out scored 110-61 and that might be flattering to them the season is OVER that is REALITY come this friday morning and the Cats are 0 and 4 and the next game is against the Stamps in Calgary maybe that will become clearer for those wearing Rose color glasses.

    • Sea of Dead // July 17, 2017 at 9:43 pm //

      No, some people just never get it. The team could lose every game this season and they would still consider Austin almighty … I can hear it already, ‘2017 just a bad season for whatever reason(s) but don’t worry Austin will turn it around next year’. After all, someone thought he was worth over 500K$/season and even extended him after the 2016 debacle … So he must be good, right??

  18. I like most of the commenters like Austin and in no way support those calling for replacing him.
    You play the hand your dealt and move forward.
    This team is going to be fun to watch.
    In the east we will be just fine.

  19. Austin ain’t going anywhere because bob young owes him a million over the next 2yrs. At least make him work for it. They need to bring in a proven and cfl experience OC & DC. But who’s out there??? Ive said before is george cortez out there. Too bad austin doesn’t like chamblin. He would of been a good DC. But he dissed Austin in grey cup 101 not shaking his hand after the game. Let Austin stand at mud feild shrugging his shoulders. Anyways not looking too good for the ticats so far. Thanks 3down nation for letting me vent! Cheers everyone.

    • GoCats! // July 19, 2017 at 4:50 pm //

      I can see needing a better DC more than OC. Taking the play calling back after one game makes it clear Austin wants his offense called – not whatever the OC might think will work.

      Cortez seems to be available but he had a triple role when in Hamilton so I doubt he would want to come back for just OC.

      From what I recall of Chamblin’s defense when he was in Hamilton as DC, I am not sure how good a DC he would be … but since he’s with the Argos, we won’t know.

  20. Austin isn’t going anywhere and I’m happy he isn’t! Um, can anyone name a coach out there that could fix what ills the Cats who is not under contract?? The best pro sports teams have consistency at head coach – I want to see the Cats with Sinkfield, fantuz, butler, em Davis, and kanneh all playing.

  21. Funny that there is not much talk about on field personnel. The defence needs a leader and frankly, all of the players are professionals so start playing like it. Show a little pride in yourselves. That’s what a professional does. Play for each other or resign. It’s as simple as that.

  22. So the coach makes 10x what a first or second year CFL player makes. Just great. I wonder how they feel hearing that is the reason he won’t be fired.

  23. What is the deal with Butler? Is he going to play or not. Same with Davis, Kanneh. We, the fans, deserve answers. These guys got hurt without playing a down. Get them in or get better replacements.Getting torched everygame with this backfield is the problem no doubt.

  24. What’s really sad is it feels like we’ve been regurgitating the same complaints for the last three years. No O’line, no DB’s no running game etc etc etc

  25. Ticat Mike // July 18, 2017 at 3:28 pm //

    The coach’s body of work has to be calmly evaluated. He came here and ran the team with no stadium for nearly 2 years. Got to the Grey Cup twice. Got jobbed by an official in one Grey Cup game on a play that often doesnt get flagged. Lost an EAstern final cuz a defensive linemen couldnt catch a ball thrown right in his breadbasket, followed by a wild fluky bomb to Ellingson on 3rd and long. Having said all that, Austin ‘s schemes, game plans, adjustments, evaluation of talent, team building etc. leave a lot to be desired too. The team is going to stick with Kent and hope he can turn things around. I would love to see the team bring in a seasoned DC like STubler and possibly a seasoned OC but I doubt Austin would relinquish control of the offense. Building a top knotch O line, run game are priorities on offense. Building a top knoth D line and secondary are priorities on defense.

  26. bigplay // July 18, 2017 at 6:48 pm //

    The Austin defenders out there who say he needs better coordinators or players and you can not blame him for injuries etc.Are forgetting a few things for starters the OC that help take the Cats to 2Cups and helped Collaros play at a MOP level was run out of town by Austin secondly Austin hired the new OC and DC and the O line coach third thing is all teams deal with injuries example ESKS lost there starting running back and middle linebacker yet the are 3-0 the injury excuse is getting old and finally the players we have and back up players we have last time I checked Austin is not only Head Coach but Vice President Of Football Operations that means the Buck stops with him so you Austin Zealots need to stop making excuses for him,If you like losing Football then Great,18 years and counting.

    • Ticat Mike // July 19, 2017 at 10:55 am //

      If his contract at a reported 500 K per season for two more years were not in the way, I would likely turf the coach either during this season or certainly at the end of it IF there were a suitable replacment out in the wings. But given the improbability of ownership eating that contract, the next best thing is for ownership to strong insist that high calibre CFL experienced coordinators take over those duties. I doubt it will happen. And I agree with you — the buck does stop with Mr. Austin — the record is not good, the progression is horrible, and we’re a terrible football team at the moment.

  27. Lavinia Vanlandingham // July 18, 2017 at 8:49 pm //

    There’s been a worrying pattern at play. On first down, Collaros takes a step or two and in a state of anxiety rushes a pass to someone not even five yards away with no chance of catching the ball. On second down he’s running scared in the backfield right off the snap and in a state of anxiety fires downfield into tight coverage. Third down, punt. This is not the same Zach Collaros of two or three years ago, not the same guy who’d confidently run laterally to a seam and fire it sidearm or shovel if need be to a guy he knew would be open having read the coverage. And I also worry about how conservative Brandon Banks has become. Collaros and Banks used to superstars. Not anymore. From a coaching standpoint, you want to reduce injuries; but what happens when players, who thrive by the very virtue of their cavalier approach to the game, get constrained by a playbook designed to keep them healthy?

  28. Sea of Dead // July 18, 2017 at 10:02 pm //

    Not sure what’s wrong with Banks … He’s playing like a guy who took a 50K$ pay cut on a Cdn$ that is 0.75/0.76 cents of a US$ (Perhaps that’s his issue or perhaps he isn’t getting a lane to run through on special teams or perhaps both).

    Nothing wrong with Collaros that a good OL and decent play calls couldn’t fix. Unfortunately, one or both have often been absent in all of 2016 and so far in 2017.

    But we have a football genius running the team, making over 500K$ per year. So relax Lavinia, the team is surely in good hands … you know just like the All State insurance people say on TV. So don’t worry … Be happy!

  29. Ticat Mike // July 19, 2017 at 10:57 am //

    @ Sea of Dead — agree with all your points and i hope the reference to our genius coach was tongue in cheek – cause we are not in good hands with All State Kent.

    • Sea of Dead // July 19, 2017 at 10:09 pm //

      Well, if you’ve read my previous posts, the answer is clear. Austin can’t attract good people to work for him anymore and some of our better players are no longer performing for him also. So it’s just a matter of time before he’s gone. Caretaker Bob, in his own mind, has probably already written off the 1M$ in salary owed to Austin as another bad business decision. Live and learn.

  30. Marc Lebut // July 19, 2017 at 2:12 pm //

    3 words for the Ticats issues so far this season: Condell, Reinebold, injuries.

    I can’t say Reinebold’s D progressed a bit since his stint as DC in Montréal. He’s a STC, not a DC.

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