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Taking over in Steeltown Tiger-Cats get their man

Austin accepts Hamilton's sweetened second offer to coach team

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HAMILTON, Ont. -- When Kent Austin turned the Hamilton Tiger-Cats down in 2011, he had no idea he'd be running the CFL team a year later.

The Ticats and the Saskatchewan Roughriders both pursued Austin to fill their respective head-coaching vacancies in 2011 but he opted to stay in his job as head coach at Cornell University.

This time, the Ticats sweetened the pot.

On Monday, the club hired Austin as their head coach, general manager and vice-president of football operations.

"Last year the timing wasn't right, it was not conducive for what was right for our family in our opinion," Austin said during a news conference. "I had a tremendous opportunity given to me at Cornell ... and wanted to honour that commitment.

"But things change and for me this opportunity continued to grow and continued to grow in our thoughts. I just thought it was the best time and my family really wanted to come."

In his new roles, Austin is in charge of all football-related decisions, something he says was more attractive to him. Still, he was surprised the Ticats gave him a second chance.

"Sometimes opportunities come around once in this profession and if you pass them up you don't see them again," he said. "But for whatever reason it did and came at a time that was right for us."

Austin takes over as head coach from George Cortez, who was fired last week after compiling a 6-12 record in his first season with Hamilton. Bob O'Billovich is also out as GM and is mulling over an offer to remain with the franchise as a consultant.

Hamilton's offence was one of the CFL's most potent under Cortez, who also served as the offensive co-ordinator. But the defence struggled mightily and was a big reason why the Ticats missed the playoffs.

Hamilton led the CFL in scoring (29.9 points per game) and passing (298.2 yards per game) and was second in total offence (378.6 yards per game). Veteran quarterback Henry Burris led the league in passing (5,367 yards) and touchdowns (43) -- both career highs.

However, the Ticats registered 45 giveaways (second only to Winnipeg's 53) and were the CFL's second-highest-penalized squad. Defensively, Hamilton allowed a league-worst 32 points per game and was second-last in yards allowed (409.2 per game).

The watershed moment in the unit's struggles came in Hamilton's regular-season finale Nov. 1 versus arch-rival Toronto at Rogers Centre.

Hamilton entered that contest needing the win to make the CFL playoffs against a Toronto squad that had already clinched a post-season berth and rested 10 starters, including starter Ricky Ray. But the Argos earned a 43-40 victory on Swayze Waters' 51-yard field goal on the game's final play.

What's more, fourth-stringer Zack Collaros calmly marched Toronto into field-goal range after Hamilton tied the score.

"The two most important stats in football are turnover ratio and big plays," Austin said. "If you win those two categories you have a really high probability of winning football games.

"We need to eliminate turnovers and make sure we win the turnover ratio and make sure we have big plays and not just on offence but on defence as well, what we call explosive plays."

The quarterback is a key figure in three-down football, something ex-quarterback Austin is all too familiar with. So it's no surprise he believes pressuring the passer is important to a defence.

"I played the position and coached the position and sometimes you give quarterbacks too much credit in football," he said. "There are times you need to get after the quarterback and pressure him.

"Not all the time but certainly we want to get teams in second-and-long in this league and give the quarterback a lot to think about."

Austin joins the Ticats with an impressive coaching resumé but with little front-office experience. He said he will evaluate Hamilton's roster, its current front-office personnel and coaching staff before deciding what changes are required.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2012 C2

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