Ticats go from controversy to contrition over hiring of Art Briles

In the span of less than a day, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats went from controversy to contrition over the hiring of disgraced former Baylor coach Art Briles.

Team owner Bob Young and CEO Scott Mitchell both apologized for adding Briles as assistant head coach on Monday, an offer that was rescinded following an outcry from fans and an intervention by the Canadian Football League.

“Clearly, what was being contemplated was totally unacceptable to the general public and the media,” Mitchell said. “I think when we took a step back and had a chance to talk to the league and some of our partners and some of our fans, what we thought was an opportunity to give somebody a second chance was clearly not acceptable in relation to what had previously happened and what [Briles] had been involved with.”

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.” One former player is serving a 20-year sentence for sexual assault and the school is facing a number of lawsuits, not to mention ongoing investigations by state and federal authorities as well as the NCAA.

While he initially defended the move, Mitchell reconsidered after CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie drove to Hamilton on Monday evening for a face-to-face meeting. The commissioner has sweeping powers when it comes to who plays in the league but less authority over front office personnel and so he encouraged the Ticats to stand down.

“I think Randy Ambrosie showed great leadership and he brought a lot of important issues to the table that were more important than the issues that we had focussed on,” Mitchell said. “We saw that our stance on this being a second chance for somebody was certainly not acceptable versus the impact of everything that happened at Baylor had.”

Mitchell said the decision to hire Briles was primarily a football one. New head coach June Jones has a long-standing friendship with Briles, who has had trouble finding work after the scandal at Baylor. Briles also has a relationship with former NFL quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, both of whom are on the Ticats’ exclusive negotiation list.

“I think we got too wrapped up in the inner sanctum of football discussions and forget about important things like our standing in the community and how it reflects on the franchise,” Mitchell said.

Jones was reluctant to discuss the team’s decision to part ways with Briles.

“Art and I have been friends for 40 years and this is really an emotional thing for me, very personal. I’ve had a history of helping people and that’s what I’m about,” Jones said. “I have my own opinion on the whole thing but it’s really meaningless right now because we’ve made the decision as a club and that’s the way it is right now.”

Meanwhile Young, whose Twitter feed @CaretakerBob was inundated with fans outraged by the move, also issued a statement through the team on Tuesday.

“We made a large and serious mistake. We want to apologize to our fans, corporate partners and the Canadian Football League,” the statement read. “It has been a difficult season and we are searching for answers. This is clearly not one of them. We have listened, we are reviewing our decision-making processes and we will learn. We will go on. We want to thank our fans, partners and the CFL for their help and support.”

Mitchell said he believes that Briles will coach football again at some point but that it won’t be with the Ticats. He also took personal responsibility for the decision to bring in Briles in the first place.

“I don’t think there’s any question, ultimately I’m responsible because any situation like this has to be brought to me,” Mitchell said. “When you make a mistake like this, there are lessons to be learned and we’ve learned a great amount in the last 24 hours.”