How Hamilton Tiger-Cats fans saved the team from Art Briles

Jeff Blair gives CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie major kudos for his handling of the Art Briles situation in Hamilton, says the league's in good hands with him at the helm.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats fans are a forgiving bunch because they feel they are part of the team’s struggle. They’ll forgive their stadium construction being delayed. They’ll forgive bad play on the field. They’ll forgive a coaching carousel.

But they won’t forgive besmirching the name and reputation of their city.

Given that fact, it’s become clear the Tiger-Cats organization didn’t sufficiently think through their decision to hire Art Briles, and even after reversing course they’re reeling from its ramifications.

Briles was head coach of the Baylor University football team from 2008 to 2015. But he was dismissed after an investigation conducted by law firm Pepper Hamilton found that the school and its football staff failed to respond to several rape allegations involving players.

According to those familiar with the report, 17 women reported sexual or domestic assaults, including four gang rapes, involving 19 players under Briles’s time with the team.

The story is still ongoing as a federal judge recently ordered the university to release the full findings of the Pepper Hamilton report.

So with the wounds created during Briles’s disastrous tenure at Baylor still fresh, why did Hamilton hire him as assistant offensive head coach? What was the team’s end game?

Was Briles, who has never coached in the CFL, really going to change the fortunes of the currently 0-8 Ticats? What are the wins above replacement for a CFL assistant?

The only plausible answer is attracting Robert Griffin III or Johnny Manziel to Hamilton, both of whom are on their negotiation list. Briles coached Griffin when he won the Heisman and recruited Manziel before he eventually signed with Texas A&M.

But even if acquiring Manziel or Griffin was the goal, no QB acquisition is worth the damage done to the league, the team or its fans.

The Cleveland Browns brought Briles in twice last season — once during training camp and then later in the month of October. The thought process was to help Griffin, who was one of five Baylor players on the roster. They were heavily criticized for it and dared not to go down that path again.

And anyone who thought the reaction was going to be different in Canada doesn’t understand the marketplace.

The Tiger-Cats are a representation of their city and the ward the stadium resides in, and their fans have a sense of ownership both of the on-field product and what the team stands for.

As news of the Briles hire was picked up on both sides of the border Monday, Ticats fans spoke loudly and clearly on the subject, singling out head coach June Jones, team president Scott Mitchell and owner Bob Young.

Team partner Barry’s Jewellers released a statement on Twitter speaking out against the hire and opting to donate part of their sales to the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton.

The upcoming Labour Day Classic, usually a joyous occasion of tailgating, suddenly looked like it would become a platform for protest.

But due at least in part to the backlash, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie drove to Hamilton Monday night to dissuade the Ticats from hiring Briles.

Normally the league doesn’t weigh in on coaching contracts the way it does player contracts. But in this unique situation, they really were given no choice and ultimately the CFL announced Monday evening that Briles would not be joining the league.

What happened at Baylor is disgusting. It happened because the school was blinded by winning.

It appears the Tiger-Cats front office was blinded by losing.

On the Ticats’ organizational chart, Young is listed as caretaker. He fell short of his duty in shepherding his team. Luckily, Ambrosie and the Tiger-Cats’ fans provided insurance to take care of the proud franchise before it was too late.

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