Drastic change won’t help the Ticats, history says

his is probably a good thing, but Casey Printers isn’t walking through that door.

The former CFL quarterback, now safely retired, was billed as the franchise saviour when he was signed midway through the 2007 season, a campaign now not-so-fondly remembered for its abject dysfunction rather than its stellar football.

It was also the last time the Hamilton Tiger-Cats started the season 0-4.

The Ticats have returned to those depths once again, courtesy of Thursday night’s 31-28 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos. Despite mostly playing well for 58 minutes and change, Hamilton blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead and turned a game that would have silenced their growing legion of outspoken critics into another chapter of 2017’s dismal narrative.

The braying masses are getting louder, to be sure. Calls for heads to roll (head coach Kent Austin or defensive co-ordinator Jeff Reinebold top that list) or starting jobs to be lost — ‘the #Ticats should bench quarterback Zach Collaros’ fills exactly 50 of Twitter’s 140 characters — continue unabated.

Back in the dark ages, when the Ticats won exactly 15 regular season games — combined — in four seasons — change was often touted as a cure-all.

In 2005, with the team at 0-6, owner Bob Young reassigned general manager Ron Lancaster, replacing him with Rob Katz. They finished 5-13 and missed the playoffs. The next season, with the team at 0-4, head coach Greg Marshall was fired, replaced by Lancaster. Final result: 4-14, out of the playoffs. In 2008, they started 1-5 and head coach Charlie Taaffe was fired in September. Another 3-15 campaign.

Stability arrived before success. General manager Bob O’Billovich, installed before the 2008 season, gradually restored some lustre to the tarnished franchise by formulating a plan and sticking with it, building up the roster and sticking with young head coach Marcel Bellefeuille for three seasons, despite some up and downs — including a 1-4 start in 2010.

The point of this Ticat history lesson? Constant change of key components in football rarely produces the intended result.

And while there are no moral victories in football, the Ticats do appear to be showing the “constant improvement” that Austin so constantly harps. They were comprehensively terrible week one against Toronto, but showed some signs of life against the Riders. They played better against B.C., especially early on.

On Thursday, they gave the Eskimos, considered by many to be the best team in the CFL right now, all they could handle. Austin said afterwards that, “We played well enough to win, we just gotta learn to finish off football games.” And while it’s easy to snort derisively while pointing at the scoreboard (and the standings), he’s not wrong.

Which isn’t to say the Ticats don’t have real problems.

Collaros, who played better against Edmonton, is still missing his full mojo, the swagger that made him virtually unstoppable in 2015 and for stretches last season.

The offence’s inability to get four yards — four stinkin’ yards — with the game on the line was as much responsible for the loss as the defence’s collapse in the final 90 seconds. But there were some signs of the ever-elusive “complementary football,” instances where offensive execution was followed by quality defensive play and supported by efficiency on special teams. When things are going well under Austin, the ability of successive units to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the preceding one happens with regularity. We finally saw glimpses of it on Thursday.

There’s nothing to do but stay the course. Even if the Ticats return from a diabolical Western road swing at 0-6 — and that’s totally in play — they’ll still have seven home games left and a slew of matches against East Division opponents; the playoffs will still be in reach, albeit without any margin for error.

But drastic change won’t change those odds for the better. Just ask Casey Printers.

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