Even on their bye week, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are managing to create controversy.
The Ticats touched off a media firestorm Monday by announcing Art Briles will join new head coach June Jones’ staff as an assistant offence head coach. Briles, 61, was fired in May 2016 as Baylor’s head football coach after an investigation discovered the school mishandled numerous sexual assault allegations, including some against football players.
Briles’ appointment drew plenty of criticism on social media, including from Theo Fleury, the former NHL star who was sexually abused by his junior coach, Graham James.
“If you knew and didn’t say anything then you are just as much a part of rape as the people who committed rape. Shame on .CFL,” Fleury tweeted.
Many other people urged CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie to step in and void Briles’ hiring. Late on Monday, the league issued a statement regarding the matter.
“The commissioner is in continuing discussions with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats regarding the hiring of Art Briles as a coach,” the statement said. “We will have no further comment until those discussions have concluded.”
The Ticats didn’t mention the circumstances of Briles’ firing from Baylor in their release. And there were no comments regarding the hire from Jones, vice-president of football operations Kent Austin or owner Bob Young.
Scott Mitchell, the Ticats’ CEO, didn’t immediately return a telephone message. But Mitchell told 3DownNation, a football blog, that both Young and the CFL were well aware of Hamilton’s intention to hire Briles and the organization has no intention of rescinding the move.
“This is about giving someone a second chance and we’re committed to doing that,” Mitchell said. “For every reaction that you’re getting from social media and media, there’s a tremendous amount of support behind the scenes for a tough decision.
“I think a lot of people in this world, including myself, have made bad decisions and have regrets and I certainly feel strongly that in this case, Art Briles deserves a second opportunity.”
What’s more, the Ticats announced the hiring of Briles on the same day as they were scheduled to host a women’s football clinic.
Jones and Briles were scheduled to meet with reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Barry’s Jewellers Ltd., one of the Ticats sponsors, denounced the hiring of Briles.
“We strongly condemn and urge the team’s management and ownership to immediately sever any ties they may have,” the sponsor said in a statement. “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.”
The jewelry retailer said it will be donating a portion of its sales over the next two months to the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton.
Briles accumulated a 99-65 overall record as an NCAA head coach at Houston (2003-07) and Baylor (2008-15). He guided the Bears to Big 12 championships in 2013 and 2014 and coached the program’s only Heisman winner, quarterback Robert Griffin III who ironically is on Hamilton’s negotiation list.
The hiring of Briles comes at a time when the CFL is riding high on its wildly successful Diversity is Strength campaign. In fact, Ambrosie even spoke to CNN about the program, which was originally scheduled for launch this fall but was moved ahead following the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month.
Hamilton (0-8) is the CFL’s only winless team. Last week, Austin relinquished head-coaching duties and promoted Jones to that post.
Jones joined the Ticats following their embarrassing 60-1 road loss to the Calgary Stampeders on July 29.
NEW STARTER: When the B.C. Lions return to action Sept. 8 hosting the Montreal Alouettes, it will be with veteran Travis Lulay as their starter.
Head coach/GM Wally Buono handed the starting job to Lulay following B.C.’s 31-24 road loss to the Ottawa Redblacks on Saturday. Lulay replaced Jonathan Jennings and nearly erased a 31-3 fourth-quarter deficit before throwing an interception with under two minutes remaining that ended the Lions’ comeback bid.
Lulay finished 18-of-23 passing for 202 yards and two TDs to go with the interception after Jennings completed 10-of-17 attempts for 137 yards and an interception. B.C. (5-5) has dropped three straight and four of its last five games to fall to fourth in the West Division, just two points ahead of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-4), who’ve won two straight.
“We can’t afford any more mulligans,” Buono said. “We have eight games left.
“We put ourselves in a tough position. We need to regroup, we need to play a lot better football and we need to make sure we win some games.”
KEY MATCHUPS: The Calgary Stampeders are atop the West Division standings at the halfway point in the season and will have a glorious chance to solidify their standing.
Calgary (7-1-1) moved past Edmonton (7-2) into top spot with a 23-7 home win over the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday. The Eskimos dropped to a tie for second with Winnipeg after losing a 54-31 decision to the Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-4) on Friday night.
The Bombers (7-2) picked up their fifth straight win, a 34-31 overtime decision over the Montreal Alouettes, on Thursday night.
Calgary hosts Edmonton on Monday in an important home-and-home series for the long-time rivals. The two teams will return to Commonwealth Stadium on Sept. 9.
Winnipeg visits Regina on Monday before hosting Saskatchewan on Sept. 9. The Riders are coming two consecutive victories and have pulled to within two points of the B.C. Lions (5-5) for fourth in the West.
It’s also a pivotal time within the East Division.
First-place Toronto (4-6) visits Hamilton (0-8) on Monday holding a one-point lead over Ottawa (3-6-1). Third-place Montreal (3-6) is only two points behind.
The Redblacks visit Montreal on Thursday then will host Hamilton on Sept. 9. After playing the Ticats, the Argos are off until Sept. 16 when they host Edmonton.
The Alouettes will visit B.C. on Sept. 8 before hosting Ottawa again Sept. 17.