REGINA — Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin is a figure that literally looms large over Mosaic Stadium, site of the 101st Grey Cup.
That’s because a 21-metre-high banner of Austin hangs outside the stadium, which is home to the Saskatchewan Roughriders football club. It’s a tribute to the quarterback who guided the Riders to the 1989 Grey Cup championship and was head coach when the green and white clinched the title in 2007.
Austin left the Roughriders after the championship win and spent five years in the U.S. college ranks before becoming Hamilton’s head coach and general manager last December.
Saskatchewan spoiled Austin’s return to Regina in the regular season with a 37-0 win over the Ticats in July.
But Riders head coach Corey Chamblin says the Ticats are “a totally different team” now and Saskatchewan can’t take anything for granted in the Grey Cup on Sunday.
“That’s the thing about it, it’s a very fresh challenge for us. Everything’s brand new,” Chamblin said at a news conference Tuesday.
“They do so many different things from when we played them early in the season. They’ve totally changed…a lot of things that they’ve done and I’m sure (they think) the same thing when they look at us on film, so it’ll be a fresh game and it’ll be one of those where there’ll be a lot of adjustments throughout the course of that game.”
Chamblin says one of the things the Riders did in the off season was look at how many coaching changes other teams had and try to catch them off guard early on. But he says Hamilton has grown together and gelled as a team.
Hamilton heads into the Grey Cup game on a roll, having won 11 of its last 15 games, including last week’s East Division final against 2012 Grey Cup champion Toronto.
Chamblin, who spent the 2011 season as Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator before becoming the Riders head coach in 2012, says he doesn’t see the game as a head-to-head challenge between coaches.
“I enjoy that I don’t get the storylines he does, that puts more pressure on Kent,” joked Chamblin.
“No, right now it’s the Hamilton Tiger-Cats versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I never make it an individual battle or anything like that. Kent’s a very good coach and he’s done a very good job with his football team. The same here.”
“Ultimately it’s going to be two teams play in the Grey Cup,” he added.
Riders quarterback Darian Durant agrees that they are preparing to face a completely different team, including his former Saskatchewan teammate and friend Andy Fantuz.
“Those guys, there were missing some pieces when we played them earlier. You know, they had a bunch of young guys who were new to the CFL, didn’t know the game as much and now, they’re basically veterans,” Durant said at Mosaic Stadium.
“They went on the road and they beat the defending Grey Cup champions, which says a lot, so you definitely have to make sure you’re ready and prepared for those guys.”
The last time Saskatchewan and Hamilton faced each other in the Grey Cup was in 1989, when Austin was the quarterback. Saskatchewan won 43-40 with a last-second field goal from Dave Ridgway.
Durant is getting help from Saskatchewan offensive co-ordinator George Cortez, who was the head coach and director of football operations for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last season. The Grey Cup will also be a homecoming of sorts for Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris, who is a former Rider.