As soap operas go, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats may be the best thing going.
Thursday’s episode featured the departure of their second-leading tackler and budding bad boy Will Hill, who had started every game on defence this season – except for the one where he was suspended for gabbing an official – as well as comments from recently fired defensive coordinator Jeff Reinebold alleging “disloyalty” from members of the organization.
Ticat head coach Kent Austin – the show’s beleaguered leading man – didn’t want to get into the specifics surrounding the circumstances of Hill’s departure but alluded to issues with his attitude and commitment.
“We want guys that understand what it means to be a teammate and to play in a team sport,” Austin said.
Hill signed in Canada after being suspended by the NFL four times for violating both the performance enhancing and substance abuse guidelines. Sources close to the team said Hill was routinely late or missed meetings while others referred to him as a “cancer.” His decision to walk off the practice field on Wednesday was likely the last straw.
“We want guys on our team that understand that they need to have a role that’s given to them… to show up at practice and to practice, to do everything that the coaches ask them to do,” Austin said. “When there is a pattern of behaviour that betrays that, then they’ve demonstrated that they can’t be a team guy.”
Meanwhile, Reinebold made his first public comments in the wake of his departure from the team earlier this week on Inside the Huddle, the NFL-themed podcast he co-hosts for SkySports. Austin, replaced Reinebold with linebackers’ coach Phillip Lolley after the team gave up an average of 39 points a game while starting 0-6.
“When you go through these things you find out a tremendous amount about loyalty. You wonder why guys don’t take jobs unless they have only their guys in place with them? For reasons like this. When it gets tough, and it always gets tough, if the guys are bound together you can weather it better than when guys are starting to feel like ‘Oh my God, the ship’s sinking and I better see how I can get on one of the lifeboats,’” Reinebold said. “Disloyalty comes in a lot of fashions. It can be not doing something the way it needs to get done, continuously. That’s the same thing as saying ‘I’m not going to do it your way.’ There’s also the more blatant form of disloyalty which is guys cutting side room deals.”
Reinebold said he was surprised by the decision, which came after a tough two-game West Division road trip in which they were beaten 60-1 by the Calgary Stampeders – the second-worst loss in team history – then fell 33-28 in Edmonton last Friday, a furious fourth-quarter rally falling just short.
“Every situation is unique but the thing that took me by surprise was that there were no conversations previous, there was no the head coach calls you in and asks ‘what are you doing on third down?’, or ‘I don’t like what you’re doing here, you’re blitzing too much, you’re not blitzing enough.’ There was none of that,” Reinebold said. “It was just a blind-sided – I got a text at 5:30 in the morning to meet the head coach at 9, I walked in and he told me what he was doing and that was the end of it.”
Austin, who said he hadn’t listened to Reinebold’s comments, dismissed his charge that any of the coaches on the Ticats’ staff had undercut the former defensive coordinator in any way.
“Jeff has been a valued member of our club. There have been extreme amounts of loyalty given: if there’s anybody who’s loyal to his coaches, it’s the guy you’re looking at right now,” Austin said. “We don’t have other coaches that undermine other coaches on the staff. I’ve never experienced or witnessed that with these guys. If I had, they wouldn’t be here.”
While Austin said the door remained open for a possible return – Reinebold has been offered a job working with new assistant head coach June Jones, with whom he has worked in the past – it doesn’t sound as if he’s inclined to take it. Reinebold said he spoke to friends and colleagues around football, including former NFL coordinator Rob Ryan and current Toronto head coach Marc Trestman, about his situation.
“Both of them advised me not to do it. They said it will be too raw. As much as you love the players and your loyalty to June… they said go surfing, go do your job at Sky and take some time to reassess where you are and what you want to do,” Reinebold said. “That’s been the message from everybody. Even June said ‘I want you to stay but I couldn’t do it.’ I think that’s the way it’s going to sort out.”
Of course, with a saga like this, it seems like anything is possible. Stay tuned.