After a day of withering criticism from their fans and media from across North America, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Canadian Football League reversed an earlier decision to hire disgraced former U.S. college coach Art Briles.
The team and the league issued a joint statement just after 9:15 p.m. on Monday announcing the move.
“Art Briles will no longer be joining the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a coach. We came to this decision this evening following a lengthy discussion between the league and the Hamilton organization,” the statement read. “We wish Mr. Briles all the best in his future endeavours.”
Briles was fired as the head coach of Baylor University last May after an investigation discovered the school mishandled numerous sexual assault allegations, including some against football players and that “football personnel chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence.”
The scandal reportedly involved 17 women who reported incidents involving 19 players and four of them were alleged gang rapes. The school has been sued by several women and last week reached a deal with former student Jasmin Hernandez, the first of several women to file lawsuits against Baylor. Hernandez was sexually assaulted in 2012 by former football player Tevin Elliott, who was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Earlier in the day, Ticats CEO Scott Mitchell defended the decision to hire Briles, who has been added to the staff of new head coach June Jones.
“This has been a topic of discussion for several weeks, collecting information and making a decision. This is about giving someone a second chance and we’re committed to doing that,” Mitchell said. “We just thought it was a very serious situation, but we also felt that after talking to dozens of people, people we trust, people we admire, that Art Briles is a good man that was caught in a very bad situation.”
But the news of Briles’ return to football was picked up by media organizations across North America and reaction on social media was almost universally critical of the Ticats’ decision. One of the team’s most prominent sponsors, Barry’s Jewellers, issued a statement along with a pledge to donate to the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton.
“It is with profound disappointment that we heard the news of the hiring of Art Briles. We strongly condemn and urge the team’s management and ownership to immediately sever any ties they may have,” the statement read. “Mr. Briles may or may not have a valid coaching track record, but to choose the chance of winning football over the importance of values goes beyond our core values and is absolutely not acceptable.”
Mitchell said the league had been aware of the team’s interest in Briles before his addition was announced, but the CFL issued a statement late Monday afternoon that seemed to indicate it was trying to exert pressure on the team to reconsider.
Reaction to the news that Briles wouldn’t be coming to Hamilton – he was scheduled to meet the media on Tuesday afternoon – was met with praise and relief on social media but many angry fans were left many with a single, lingering question: why did the Ticats try to hire Briles in the first place?