When the news broke Monday that the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats had hired disgraced former Baylor head coach Art Briles, it created a massive stream of backlash given Briles’ alleged role in covering up numerous sexual assaults by his players, but a thought for many was that either the team’s business office or the league would realize how bad this looked (especially on a day when they were hosting a women’s football clinic) and intervene.
It now looks like that won’t be the case, as Tiger-Cats’ CEO Scott Mitchell thoroughly defended the Briles hire in an interview with Drew Edwards of 3 Down Nation, praising Briles’ relationship with new head coach June Jones and calling Briles “a good man that was caught in a very bad situation.”
Mitchell also said that the team had done due diligence on Briles for weeks and been in contact with the league offices about their plans. However, the CFL has since released a statement about “continuing discussions”:
CFL statement on the hiring of Art Briles. pic.twitter.com/s8Oz1QQl3S
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) August 28, 2017
Here’s the key part of what Mitchell, the Ticats’ CEO, had to say in his interview with Edwards:
Drew Edwards: Were you aware of the issues surrounding Art Briles’ tenure at Baylor before you hired him?
Scott Mitchell: We were very well aware of it and it’s been a long deliberation internally, collecting information, talking to as many people as possible, quite frankly getting the facts about things straightened away. The history is that June Jones and Art Briles have known each other for decades and June was very forthright about what the situation was and the more we contemplated it, deliberated over it – and obviously I spoke to Bob Young about it as well –we just thought it was a very serious situation but we also felt that after talking to dozens of people, people we trust, people we admire, that Art Briles a is a good man that was caught in a very bad situation. Clearly, some serious mistakes were made along the way but we feel strongly that people deserve second chances and that’s what we’ve decided to do with Art Briles.
“A good man caught in a very bad situation”? That doesn’t seem to jibe with just about anything that’s been reported about Briles. The timing here is interesting, too, as a new book about the Baylor scandal (Violated, by ESPN reporters Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach) just dropped last week. USA Today’s Dan Wolken wrote last week that that book’s revelations were further proof Briles should never coach in college again:
It’s a good time for another reminder of why that shouldn’t happen — not now, not ever.
…[T]he role Briles played in aiding and abetting the rotten culture at Baylor — and his lack of answers for how to fix it — should be disqualifying for him to ever work in college athletics again. Though he did not agree to be interviewed for the book, there are more than a dozen pages worth of specific, damning details about how Briles took on players with sketchy histories, actively intervened on their behalf at times to keep them out of trouble and insulated himself at other times from knowledge that might have led Baylor on a different disciplinary course.
Though the book does not provide a smoking gun on Briles’ culpability in covering up sexual assaults, it cites numerous text and e-mail exchanges in which he clearly attempts to keep potential disciplinary problems in-house before they became public.
“I really think it was a window into how he was operating the program and how he was trying to skirt players getting into the drug program and the administration finding out about incidents and even trying to keep things away from the police,” Schlabach told USA TODAY Sports. “It was really eye-opening into how internal his discipline really was.”
Of course, Wolken tweeted Monday that he doesn’t have a problem with Briles working with a professional team in Canada, and even said “The CFL is about right for Art Briles.” But plenty of Canadian football fans, observers and former players have a major issue with this. Here are some of their tweets:
Art Briles, huh?! The CFL sure didn't waste much time destroying that goodwill they generated with the Diversity campaign.
— Jock Cartier (@JockCartier) August 28, 2017
— Jason Vega (@VegaJason) August 28, 2017
— Laura Stewart (@lstewy) August 28, 2017
— Farrah Khan (@farrah_khan) August 28, 2017
— Jeannine (@OttawaJay) August 28, 2017
— Mike Beauvais (@MikeBeauvais) August 28, 2017
— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) August 28, 2017
— Blue Bomber Talk (@BlueBomberTalk) August 28, 2017
Many Hamilton fans have said they’ll not attend games as a result of this:
same here, if this guy is not gone by Monday I will not be attending. #boycott
— Matt Bates (@matt_bates13) August 28, 2017
I am the father of a daughter and I will not be supporting this hire. As a result I will not be attending anymore games.
— oskee-eddie (@oskeeeddie) August 28, 2017
But Mitchell’s interview with Edwards makes it very clear Hamilton was well aware of what they were getting into, and they have no plans to backtrack:
DE: There are many people, including Ticats fans, who are expressing outrage about this. Are you concerned by the reaction?
SM: I’m always concerned about our fans. This is a very inflammatory subject, a very serious subject. I think our fans know enough about the organization, that we have an extremely high moral standard, we try and bring in high character people. Our history suggests that. I’m not sure we’ve had one issue since the present administration was involved. It’s something we take very seriously. It’s my hope that fans get as accurate a portrayal of exactly what happened as possible, I hope they understand that there’s the world we live in with the quick rush to judgment – which again, is not to diminish a very, very serious issue – but at the end of the day I think people would agree that people deserve second chances. We’ve proven our track record is taking subjects seriously and doing our due diligence. It’s a terribly unfortunate background to it but that doesn’t take away that people feel strongly that Art Briles is a good person who deserves the opportunity to be a coach.
DE: Given the reaction, has there been any discussion about rescinding this decision?
SM: No. We didn’t enter into this today, this has been a topic of discussion for several weeks, collecting information and making a decision. This is about giving someone a second chance and we’re committed to doing that. 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.
There’s a long history of the CFL and its teams making bad decisions. This is a league that on two different occasions in the span of a year drafted dead players, a league that expanded to the U.S. for a grand total of three seasons (although there’s an argument that those expansion fees saved a league that was in drastic trouble on other fronts), a league that gave Bernie and Lonie Glieberman three different chances to run a team (including one where they tried to encourage female fans in Ottawa to flash the crowd), a league that created multiple expansion teams that never played a game, and a league that had five commissioners between 2000 and 2007.
On the personnel side, the CFL is a league that once employed Khalif Mitchell despite anti-Semitic tweets (although not for long), a league that employed Lawrence Phillips despite a whole raft of past problems, a league that kept Adam Braidwood around for months after he was charged with kidnapping and sexual assault, and a league that’s given numerous chances to players with pasts of domestic violence. It’s also a league where Hamilton’s current GM, Eric Tillman, once pled guilty to a summary sexual assault charge for touching a 16-year-old babysitter. There are cases that all of those moves were bad calls, and problematic in their own right, but bringing in Briles might be the dumbest move of them all; yes, he hasn’t been criminally charged with anything at this time, but he’s still facing lawsuits (one was settled earlier this month, others remain), and the accusations (even from the university) of his role in covering up numerous sexual assaults by his players should have made him untouchable. And there are no potential benefits here to make this worth the backlash.
Briles has proven to be a talented football coach at the NCAA level, but there’s next to no upside for the Tiger-Cats in bringing him in. For one thing, this season’s already essentially lost with the team at 0-8; yes, their division’s week (its other teams are 4-6, 3-6-1 and 3-6), but it’s highly unlikely they’re making the playoffs. Beyond that, while some of Briles’ schematic insights (especially about the use of space) may prove relevant to the CFL game, he has no experience in Canadian football whatsoever, and that generally hasn’t worked well.
Briles also has shown a significant emphasis on the run at all levels, which seems unlikely to translate to three-down football. It also doesn’t seem likely to fit with pass-focused coaches like Jones and Hamilton vice-president of football operations Kent Austin (the team’s head coach until last week). And even if his offense could somehow revolutionize things for the Tiger-Cats, implementing a drastically different offense midseason is all but impossible, especially with the CFL’s limited practice times.
So, there’s a case to be made that hiring Briles isn’t even a good football move. But even if it was a brilliant football decision, it would be an exceptionally dumb move overall. The backlash to the Briles hire is justified and predictable, and it’s going to continue to spread. No coach is worth that, and especially not an “offensive assistant.” With this move, the Tiger-Cats have made it clear they’re more concerned about giving a second chance to a disgraced coach than they are about how their fans, or CFL fans in general, will perceive this hire. That’s a bad look, and it’s one that’s going to lead to yet more blowback for them.