Scott Mitchell doesn’t think his Hamilton Tiger-Cats will have any issues attracting free agents next season, despite criticism some players leveled at team vice-president Kent Austin.
“No, I don’t think we’ll have any trouble,” the Ticats CEO firmly told The Spectator Monday afternoon. “I suggest that the guys we want to bring back next year, we’ll have here. If you asked, the overwhelming majority of players want to play here. We have signed 95 per cent of the free agents we want and, I believe, all of our own free agents.
“I do believe that most of the time, players are frustrated in situations like this.”
The situation was a number of players telling Spectator football writer Drew Edwards that if Austin—who, as VP of football operations, technically fired himself as head coach in late August and elevated June Jones to the position—were to return next season, even as vice-president, free agents would not come to Hamilton, and the team wouldn’t be able to retain some of their own free agents.
On Monday team owner Bob Young took to Twitter and characterized the complaining players as ‘cowardly’, and Edwards as a ‘naïve journalist.’ He also said there were only one or two players.
Well, our first response was: be careful with adjectives. In cyberspace, they’re a leading cause of harm. You shouldn’t question any of your employees’ bravery, the brutally hard-working Edwards is the farthest thing from ‘naïve’ and there were more than one or two players involved. Not that it needs confirmation, but the other half of the Spec’s two-man football bureau has been privy to a number of similar conversations and opinions from players. They were long-harboured and heart-felt and, actually, some were angrier than eventually portrayed in print.
So it’s probably best not for management to gloss over the complaints, and the support they’ve received from the hard-core fans who populate Twitter, blogs and chat rooms. For one thing, they represent some percentage of the market into which the Ticats’ business side must venture to sell tickets for 2018.
Like everyone else, Mitchell points out that this season was essentially cleaved into two distinct parts. There was the 0-8 start under Austin as head coach and the 6-4 record after Jones took the helm, simplifying certain systems and, by his own description, changing the culture in the locker room.
“Being a GM or a VP is not a popularity contest,” Mitchell said. “A lot of the positive things that happened from Labour Day on, Kent Austin delivered. He made a great decision to step aside for June to coach, and he made two good trades. John Chick was very popular, but (Adrian) Tracy led the league in sacks after Labour Day because he got to play more. And we’re all thrilled to have CJ (Gable) do well in Edmonton, but we will get a good player from that trade, and we had two or three other good running backs.”
Although Mitchell was clearly and strongly supporting his VP of football ops, he did say that there would be no immediate formal announcement on Austin’s near-future. And, because the coach—praised by everyone in the organization— ultimately works for the VP of football ops, Jones’s situation won’t be clarified until then either. Austin, though, is already under contract for two more years, while Jones isn’t signed for 2018.
“Kent and I have had lot of discussions,” Mitchell said. “Everybody in the organization was very disappointed, although after Labour Day it became a different and positive story.
“When you go through something like this, the organization will go over everything top to bottom. We’ll step back and make a comprehensive analysis of the organization, and Kent will be a big part of that.”
And, if we had to guess, he’ll be a big part of the next couple of years here at least, which will not go down well with some of the current players.
The comprehensive organizational analysis must include respectfully and objectively examining even those criticisms which management naturally considers off-base. Like the ones in Monday’s Spectator.
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