In the wake of the controversy surrounding the hiring (and subsequent reversal) of disgraced former Baylor coach Art Briles by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, we asked owner Bob Young how the decision was made, what went wrong and what happens next.
Drew Edwards: Ticats CEO Scott Mitchell took responsibility for this decision but how will Scott be held accountable? Are you considering parting ways with Scott?
Bob Young: Scott and I will have a very direct conversation but part of the problem is that Scott and I are fighting over who gets credit for this disaster. Scott is an operating guy but I’m a brand and marketing guy and I know better than to compromise your brand the way we attempted to do. Bottom line, this is my responsibility and that’s why I am doing the apologizing for it.
DE: So Scott’s not in jeopardy at this point?
BY: The short answer is no, the long answer is everyone is always in jeopardy and talented guys like Scott have many other opportunities. Scott and I will have a direct conversation on how to improve our organization so things like this do not happen again.
DE: How much did you know about Art Briles before he was hired?
BY: Unfortunately not enough. The football guys proposed Briles and they warned me that he came with baggage. So I Googled him and didn’t like what I found but I did not stop it and that was my mistake for which I am responsible for which I have been appropriately flogged, as has the organization.
DE: You have a reputation as a community-minded person and that seems to go against the hiring of someone with a history like the one Art Briles has at Baylor.
BY: I can’t deny any of that. We got confused between the individual and our brand and we have the responsibility at the end of the day to protect and grow our brand on behalf of all of our community and we did not do that. I can’t speak to Art Briles at all but the fact that we thought that the community might have forgiven him for the situation at Baylor was just astoundingly naive on my part. Then we paid the price.
DE: Do you believe that this has damaged the brand?
BY: Of course. Unequivocally, unequivocally. That’s an easy one.
DE: So what do you do to earn back the trust of angry fans and sponsors and stakeholders?
BY: You do what we do every day. This is an astoundingly professional, hard-working organization. Their hearts are 100 per cent in their right place, they are working hard every day long hours every day trying to make our community better, trying to produce a more entertaining spectacle, trying to look after our customers and our sponsors at an ever higher level and we will continue to do that.
DE: Based on his comments today, it doesn’t sound like head coach June Jones agrees personally with this decision. Are you concerned about that at all?
BY: No. At the personnel or football level, I’ll let you speak to June as to why he thought it wasn’t the right thing to do because June is a very honorable, moral character and so he has his opinions that operate on a completely different level than what I am responsible for. My job is at the brand level and at the brand level, this was a massive mistake. I did not exercise my authority and responsibility to protect the organization from decisions that might have made sense in context but did not make sense for who we are and why our fans enjoy being associated with us.
DE: You’ve been through some tough times with this franchise. Is this the most difficult thing that you’ve gone through?
BY: Oh no no no. Absolutely not. This one has not been fun. Let me acknowledge that. Keep in mind that the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is learning new things and in this instance I was actually learning some things that I should have already known but nonetheless. But the bottom line is that the organization is in such good shape, it consists of such a fine group of professionals. This mistake on my part will blow over because we have such a first class organization. If you compare this back to our early years where we were in a much tougher situation financially if we had made a mistake of this magnitude I might not be talking to you today.
DE: A number of women’s groups and people who have personal experience with sexual violence have spoken out very strongly about this controversy. What would you say to them?
BY: That they’re right. They’re both right in their position and they’re right to speak out about it.
DE: Was CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie influential in changing this decision?.
BY: Unequivocally. He saw this for what it was before I did it. My wife accuses me of being the tortoise to her hare and she says ‘Bob you’ll eventually get to the right answer, it just takes you an extra couple of days.’ Sadly that was true with me and Randy: it took me an extra couple of days to recognize that Randy was correct and I and the Ticats were wrong on this one.
DE: Did you hear from other people across the league?
BY: Yes and I’m both grateful and oddly flattered by their support. We did not get any criticism we just got to offers of support and they had enough confidence in us that they knew we would fix this, that we would see the error of our ways and we would repair it and I hope we did that in an appropriate way to maintain their trust going forward.
DE: Will you be doing anything specifically on the issue of violence against women and sexual violence moving forward?
BY: Yes, but nothing that I’ll tell you about tonight just because I haven’t thought through. Being a highly professional organization, we like to think things through carefully which is why this situation was such an embarrassment. We did think about it but we clearly had a significant breakdown in both our internal communication but, worse than that, in our decision-making skills. I knew what the right thing to do was and I did not do it. And that is that statement is true for our organization as a whole.
DE: Did you take any grief at home for this decision?
BY: That’s a good question. Short answer is I got the appropriate amount of grief at home. In other words, I got members of my family reaching out to me in the most loving possible way, asking ‘what the hell were you thinking?’
DE: You issued a second, more fulsome apology to season ticket holders this afternoon. What was the thinking behind that?
BY: So in the first apology it was just ‘we screwed up.’ At the time, with the amount of angst, it wouldn’t have helped to allow people to debate whether our rationale for our mistake made sense. But the more we chatted to season ticket holders and our sponsors and other members of our community, we realized we owe them a little more context to what we learned and what was the mistake that we recognize we made and that was the purpose of the second note.
The only benefit of listening to someone apologize for their mistakes is that you want some assurance that the organization you care about is going to get better and we are going to get better.