Despite the desperate lack of success at the end, there’s a lot to celebrate in Kent Austin’s tenure as head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
In four-and-a-half years at the tiller, Austin lost more regular season games than he won (36-44), but as many (four) post-season games as he lost. His teams, for the most part, were better at the end of the season than at the beginning which is the correct CFL formula. And he and Ron Lancaster are the only Ticats coaches in the past 28 years to make the playoffs four seasons in a row and the only two Hamilton coaches since 1957, 60 years ago, to finish first or second in four consecutive years.
Austin’s steadfastness, which could be a negative trait when it came to things like the running game, was an important part — probably the most important part — of this team not wilting badly when it faced hurdles no CFL team had ever faced. When Austin arrived prior to the 2013 season, the Ticats had no home. Ivor Wynne had been torn down and Tim Hortons Field was going to take a year — ha! — to build. They were going to play a season in a university stadium that wasn’t even in the city that defines them, and practice at another university stadium that couldn’t meet all their needs.
When Austin arrived prior to the 2013 season, the Ticats had no home. Ivor Wynne had been torn down and Tim Hortons Field was going to take a year — ha! — to build. They were going to play a season in a university stadium that wasn’t even in the city that defines them, and practice at another university stadium that couldn’t meet all their needs.
It was Austin who suggested redesigning the company’s corporate headquarters at 1 Jarvis St. so that there was a real locker-room and training room on site, a place that a team with no real home games could call home. That idea, and its subsequent execution by Bob Young and Scott Mitchell, turned a potentially divisive year into a unifying one.
One Jarvis, and the sense of team engendered there, was the Ticats Crazy Glue. And it was augmented by Austin’s, yes, steadfast refusal to let his players feel self-pity for their potentially nomadic existence. And lo and behold a team playing all its games on the road made it to the Grey Cup for the first time in 15 years. A documentary should have been made about that season.
The following season was just as disrupted and dangerous, and maybe more so, with the stadium being completed late, and that’s with a very liberal interpretation of “completed.” The city was still fractured over the vicious stadium location debates when the Ticats got into Tim Hortons Field, temporarily, in September 2014, and they immediately began to patch over the community scars by turning the field into something special. Even with limited access, they immediately made it their home, winning out and again reaching the Grey Cup.
Things have turned the wrong way over the past two seasons, with copious injuries, the loss of two excellent co-ordinators in Tommy Condell and Orlondo Steinauer, a less talented roster, the stalling and regression of Zach Collaros’s development arc, subpar play by some at the top of the food chain, and the loss of the Tim Hortons Field mystique.
Austin must bear the overall blame for this, and he took it last week by firing himself. But he must also bear the credit for the fact that we know Tim Hortons Field can offer a dominant home field advantage, and that a 2013 season which could have cannibalized this franchise in fact, fed it.
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