The abrupt resignation of Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive coordinator Tommy Condell means more Kent Austin and – for the first time ever – it’s worth asking whether that’s necessarily a good thing.
Condell used his six-day-old Twitter account to drop the bombshell on Monday morning, citing the ambiguous “best interests of my family” as the motivating factor for his departure. The news came as a surprise to the organization as well, which must now fill a massive hole in their coaching staff just six weeks before training camp is set to begin. The timing is less than ideal.
Austin said he expects to hire another coach but whether that person will hold the offensive coordinator title and call plays as Condell did remains to be seen. Most CFL staffs have been in place for months and finding someone with in-depth knowledge of the Condell-Austin system – the two have worked together the last six seasons – seems unlikely.
The most plausible scenario will see Austin take over the play-calling duties and that raises the first of two important questions: how much can one man reasonably be expected to take on and still be successful?
Austin already holds the vice president of football operations title in addition to head coach and quarterbacks coach. While he has given the title of general manager to Eric Tillman, the Austin is still intimately involved with every aspect of front office decision-making. He’s got plenty of responsibilities as head coach – both on and off the field – and adding the bulk of game-planning and play-calling to that list of tasks would increase that burden even further.
Even for someone as organized and process-oriented as Austin, surrounded as he may be by good and qualified people, that’s another heaping spoonful of responsibility on an already full plate. At what point to things start falling off the edges?
Here’s the second thing to consider: how will Condell’s departure impact the team’s cultural dynamic? Though he could be as intense and competitive as anyone – he’s thrown his play sheet to the ground in frustration at many a practice – Condell is relentlessly positive. That provided an much-needed counter balance to Austin, who can be tough on players, especially when things aren’t going well.
With Condell gone, the check-and-balance is in danger. He was well-liked in the locker room and near-constant presence of his four young sons – Hurricane Condell, as they are affectionately known – were the living embodiment of Austin’s family-first mantra.
But it was Condell’s commitment to his family that ultimately led him to leave the Ticats. Though he reportedly applied for the head coaching job at University of Louisiana at Monroe late last year, sources say Condell has no other job lined up and his reasons for leaving are heartfelt and legitimate. Condell declined media requests on Monday and the team has asked the details remain private.
The gist is that, despite the awkward timing, there does not appear to be an ulterior motive or shady conspiracy surrounding his departure. This isn’t about a power struggle or personality conflict between Condell and Austin – far from it – nor is it a jump to a better opportunity. For once “family reasons” may not be a code word for something nefarious, it’s actually the real reason.
One other potential long-term impact of Condell’s exit: it’s impact on the future of quarterback Zach Collaros. Condell and Collaros enjoyed a close working relationship and the coach’s departure may be a factor as Collaros ponders his options – he’s set to become a free agent after this season.
Austin’s time with the Ticats has been personified by his ability to overcome obstacle after obstacle: a season in Guelph, stadium-related scheduling issues, injuries to key players at inopportune times. The sense has always been that, no matter how hard things got, Austin would find a way.
Maybe Condell’s departure will be just another bump in the road, something else to conquer on the path to glory. But Austin’s burden, and his influence, just got a little heavier. And it’s worth asking how much one man can – or should – handle.