Throughout his CFL career, Kent Austin has always seemed a little restless.
In 1994, he was a star quarterback with the Saskatchewan Roughriders when, unhappy with his contract, he demanded a trade and was dealt to the B.C. Lions. He would play for the Toronto Argonauts and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before retiring.
The coaching profession is notoriously nomadic and Austin has been no exception. Since joining Ottawa as quarterbacks coach in 2003, Austin has held positions with four CFL clubs and two NCAA teams, never staying anywhere longer than three seasons.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats announced Tuesday that Austin, the team’s vice-president of football operations, general manager and head coach, had signed a four-year contract extension that will keep him with the club through the 2019 season. Should he stay with the Ticats for the duration of the new deal — and there’s plenty of indication he will — Austin will become the longest serving head coach since Al Bruno.
Austin’s decision to forego his career-long pursuit of potentially greener pastures is the product of a lot factors, but a lack of opportunity wasn’t among them. Given his run of recent, Austin has attracted interest from both NCAA programs and the NFL, jobs that would come with a higher profile and a potentially higher paycheque.
But there are tradeoffs, too. Austin has full control of everything football in Hamilton — coaching, personnel, even food choices — and that isn’t on offer in U.S. college football or the NFL with a few, exceedingly rare exceptions.
With the Ticats, Austin has just two bosses: CEO Scott Mitchell and owner Bob Young and the trio share a great deal of mutual respect, even friendship. In the politicized, sometimes Machiavellian world of high-level football, that kind of working environment is exceedingly rare, and Austin has been around long enough to know that.
There are also family considerations. Austin’s two youngest children are just finishing up their high school years and stability at home is a plus. After years of near constant transition, Austin and his wife, Shelley, have built an enjoyable life for themselves in this community and more upheaval wasn’t necessarily appealing.
For the team, this was essentially a no-brainer. In his three seasons with the club, Austin had led the team to two East Division titles, three Eastern Final appearances, and Grey Cup games in 2013 and 2014. More impressively, he’s overcome a series of formidable obstacles — a season in Guelph, stadium construction issues, the loss of starting quarterback Zach Collaros to name just three — to do it.
Austin has his detractors, of course. There are (mostly former) Ticat players who don’t care for his autocratic style and he can be snippy with the media, particularly after losses. He’s been accused, mostly anonymously, by other CFL front office types of being supremely arrogant, which is a bit like a drawer full of well-used pots taking shots at the big-headed kettle.
But one of the frequent criticisms of Austin was that his inherent self-interest would inevitably take him elsewhere, away from the CFL. Instead, he’s chosen to stay with the Canadian game and will become an even stronger influence because of it.
After Tuesday’s media event to announce his extension, Austin hung around to chat with reporters and team staffers. He was comfortable and relaxed, the charming Kent that the stress of the CFL season and the filter of the press so often obscure. Then he checked his watch and announced he had to go pick up his son.
They were headed home.
Notes: Austin confirmed that all three coordinators will return next season with Tommy Condell (offence), Orlondo Steinauer (defence) and Jeff Reinebold (special teams) back for a fourth straight year. “The players respond to them, they know how to coach and how to develop, how to evaluate and they’re completely unselfish, they just want to win…” Austin said… CFL free agency opens on Feb. 9 and a number of key Ticats, including defensive tackle Ted Laurent, receiver Andy Fantuz and defensive back Courtney Stephen are slated to hit the open market. “We certainly have what-if scenarios in the event things don’t play out the way we want them to with a particular player or group of players,” Austin said. “We’re executing the plan to the best of our ability and I think it’s playing out pretty decently right now.”