First, let’s get this out of the way: Kent Austin isn’t going anywhere.
In the aftermath of Sunday’s disappointing loss in the East semifinal and a 7-11 regular season there are – perhaps for the first time – a contingent of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats faithful questioning whether Austin is the right man to lead the team going forward.
The answer to that question is yes.
While Austin certainly deserves some of the blame for what is unquestionably the most disappointing season of his four years in Hamilton, there were factors beyond his control that played a significant factor in the outcome of the season.
Injuries are the most obvious one. The Ticats had 88 players on their roster this season, the highest number in the CFL save for the 107 employed by Saskatchewan. A total of 81 players played at least one game for the Tiger-Cats, the second-highest total in club history (88 in 2013.)
The team played extended stretches without their No. 1 quarterback and lost three of their top four receivers down the stretch. Their Canadian depth was tested as several of their starters missed time. The Ticats brought in a new head athletic therapist before the season and utilized a well-respected consultant in an attempt to address the issue: there’s nothing to point to except bad luck.
The departure of offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell in mid-April, just six weeks before the start of training camp, was another significant blow to the club. Not only was Condell a key piece in the game-planning machine, he was also a key conduit between the often intense Austin and players on the offensive side of the ball.
Then there’s the fact that Austin signed a lucrative four-year extension before this season: It’s extremely unlikely that Bob Young, who has invested millions in the franchise and only recently saw some black ink in the ledger, will be interested in swallowing that contract. A scenario where Austin finds another job – thus reducing the Ticats’ commitment to him – could see him plying his trade with a division rival.
Then there’s this: The Ticats have made the playoffs all four years under Austin and been to the Grey Cup twice. In addition to organizational stability, they have an elite-level starting quarterback under contract and an excellent stable of Canadian talent: That’s the blue print for sustained success in the CFL and Austin has been the chief architect.
Which isn’t to say there isn’t room for improvement. The question facing the Ticats now is whether Austin is self-aware enough to identify the challenges facing both him and the organization, then make the necessary adjustments. If he can – and assuming the injury situation is indeed an aberration – the club should be fine. More than fine.
And if he doesn’t? Well, we’ll know that, too. But there’s no question that the team – and the fans – are better off letting him try.
NOTES: The TV rating for the CFL division semi-final games were up 14 per cent over last season, according to rights holder TSN. The East semifinal between Hamilton and Edmonton was watched by an average of 903,000 viewers while the West game between B.C. and Winnipeg clocked in at 1.1 million.