They say the best revenge is living well but for a couple of former Hamilton Tiger-Cats making the all-star team and playing the East Division Final for the right to go to the Grey Cup will do just fine.
Defensive backs Rico Murray and Cassius Vaughn were named as standouts in the East Division after helping lead the resurgent Toronto Argonauts to a 9-9 record this season. On Nov. 19, the Argos will host the winner of Sunday’s semi-final between the Ottawa Redblacks and Saskatchewan Roughriders. It will be the team’s first home post-season date since 2013.
Murray played in that game too but as a member of the Ticats, his first of four years with the club. He was a generally excellent, versatile defender for Hamilton – he was an East all-star in 2014 as well – but missed time due to injury every season. When he reached free agency for a second time last February, the Ticats let him walk and he was quickly scooped up by the Argos.
“The issue wasn’t ability, it was availability,” said Murray, who played in all 18 games for the first time in his career in 2017. “One of the big things with coach Marc Trestman is that he wants his guys to be fresh on game day and the way that he monitored the veteran players helped a lot of guys this season.”
The change of scenery helped Vaughn too. He started for Hamilton just a few days after being signed in August of 2016 and played in nine games but finished the season on the practice roster after struggling at times. The team re-signed him in January – much to the chagrin of fans on social media – only to cut him again in May.
“From my understanding, it was just somebody in the building that just liked my game at that time, which I have no problem with,” Vaughn said this week. “I probably wasn’t good enough to play at that time.”
That said, it didn’t take him long to find a new home – he signed with the Argos the next day – and it didn’t take much convincing.
“My choice to even pick Toronto is because I wanted to beat Hamilton down four times a year,” he said. “That was my only reason, so I could smash them, so I could pick off Zach Collaros, play against Luke Tasker. Everybody. That was the only way I could express myself about the situation at that time.”
The signing of multiple former Ticats by the Double Blue – they also signed veteran offensive lineman Peter Dyakowski after his release before shipping him to the Riders – is hardly a coincidence. Assistant general manager Spencer Zimmerman, who was in charge of personnel decisions for much of the off-season before the team hired Jim Popp, got his CFL start as a football operations staffer with the Ticats.
Former Hamilton offensive coordinator Tommy Condell also served as a personnel consultant last winter before taking over as receivers’ coach under Trestman.
“It has been truly enjoyable. It’s been educational on multiple levels,” Condell said. “I’m truly grateful, I think that’s the best word to use.”
Once responsible for much of the Ticats’ offensive game planning and play-calling, Condell has a lesser role under Trestman and offensive coordinator Marcus Brady but has used the opportunity to expand his coach repertoire.
“Marc has had a tremendous career and I get to see how he does things, how he manages his time, what he’s watching,” Condell said. “To see it from the nascent stages, how he’s developed the culture and then come to fruition, it’s been a humbling experience.”
Much has been made of Condell’s sudden departure from the Ticats before the 2015 season but he says that’s ancient history now.
“I don’t say this meanly but I don’t care what they do. I just wanted to make sure we beat them and win the East and that’s what I’ve been focussed on,” Condell said. “I know a lot of coaches use all these clichés and some of them don’t but I’m really exited about where I’m at. I’m around good people.”
Both Murray and Vaughn speak positively of their time in Hamilton as well. Murray wrote a long thank you text to the Ticat front office to express his appreciation and Vaughn says he has being hearing from Hamilton fans after his excellent season.
“I remember when Hamilton fans were tweeting at me ‘Oh Cassius, you suck.’ Now they’re tweeting me like ‘I don’t know why we did it,” Vaughn says laughing. “I bet you don’t.”
But given how well his season has gone and with the playoffs on the horizon, Vaughn says he’s moved past the ill will.
“I understood myself more as a man after I left that situation. They gave me the opportunity to see this game and if they hadn’t done yet, you wouldn’t see the finished product this year,” he said. “I’m thankful for that. And I’m thankful they put the edge back on me.”