Updated: Austin banned from sidelines, fined for contact with official

In an unprecedented decision, CFL commissioner Jefferey Orridge has removed Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin from the sidelines of Saturday’s game against the Calgary Stampeders.

Austin is being punished for unintentionally making contact with an official while expressing his displeasure over a penalty call during the team’s loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders last weekend. It’s the first time in league history a head coach has been banned from being on the field and the accompanying $10,000 fine is believed to be the stiffest ever handed down to a coach.

While the Ticats say they’ll accept Orridge’s ruling, CEO Scott Mitchell expressed his displeasure with the severity of the punishment.

“I think it’s extremely harsh and unprecedented for something along these lines. I’ve been around this league a long time and I’ve never seen a coach taken off the sidelines,” Mitchell said. “It was a very accidental and unintentional incident. Obviously, contact with an official is a serious thing but I think the penalty is extremely harsh and very punitive.”

Orridge says he made his ruling after an exhaustive investigation that included discussions with Austin, the official involved, head linesman Tom Cesari, and stakeholders across the league. The absence of a definitive policy on the issue as well as a lack of precedent further complicated matters, as did pressure from pundits and fans to suspend Austin from the game entirely.

“We’ve never had an issue like this. There’s nothing on the books that speaks to this directly, a policy that dictates an automatic suspension,” Orridge said. “It highlighted to me the need to develop a clear zero-tolerance policy regarding physical contact with officials when there is confrontational element.”

Under the ruling, Austin will be able to watch the game from a coach’s box above the field and communicate with quarterback Zach Collaros and assistant coaches via headset. Austin is also the team’s offensive coordinator and will continue to call the plays.

It’s the second time in as many years that Austin has been disciplined by the league. The CFL fined him $5,000 for bumping into Toronto Argonaut receiver and former Ticat Dave Stala during a game last September.

Austin called Orridge’s decision “extreme” and said it would impact the team’s chances against the league-leading Stampeders. But he also acknowledged that contact with an official, regardless of intent, was a serious issue for Orridge and the CFL.

“I’m part of this league and made a commitment to not only help this football team but to try and help the league improve and get better and that’s not going to change,” Austin said. “ He’s got a tough job and I respect it.”

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