On ten­sion and Ti­cat turn­arounds

41-26 loss to B.C. not same slow start Hamil­ton can eas­ily over­come again

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DREW ED­WARDS The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor

Among those in­clined to­ward op­ti­mism, much has been made of the Ti­cats’ slow starts in 2013 and ’14, when the club stum­bled out of the gate only to make back-to-back Grey Cup ap­pear­ances.

Cer­tainly, the think­ing now goes, head coach Kent Austin can find a way to pro­duce a sim­i­lar quasi-mir­a­cle. But 2017 is a very dif­fer­ent beast. The Ti­cats are 0-3 af­ter los­ing 41-26 to the B.C. Lions in Satur­day night’s home opener. There were signs of im­prove­ment — some mo­ments of of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion, bet­ter pro­tec­tion for quar­ter­back Zach Col­laros, three first-half turnovers from the de­fence — but it wasn’t nearly enough against the well-oiled Lions, who rolled de­spite los­ing start­ing quar­ter­back Jonathon Jen­nings on their open­ing se­ries.

Vet­eran backup Travis Lu­lay strafed the be­lea­guered Hamil­ton sec­ondary to the tune of 436 yards (a CFL record for a re­lief ap­pear­ance), and the Ti­cats have now sur­ren­dered an as­ton­ish­ing 1,322 yards pass­ing through the first three weeks.

In 2013, Hamil­ton started 1-4 be­fore win­ning nine of their last 13 to fin­ish 10-8, won an OT squeaker against Mon­treal in the East semi.

Then rolled Toronto at the Rogers Cen­tre to make it to the Grey Cup. Austin and his en­tire coach­ing staff were brand new and there were the in­evitable grow­ing pains brought on by a new phi­los­o­phy, not to men­tion of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive sys­tems and ter­mi­nol­ogy: the strug­gles were, in many re­spects, per­fectly un­der­stand­able.

The fol­low­ing year, the Ti­cats were 1-6 af­ter seven games. But Col­laros was in­jured in week two and missed five games, and the team went 8-3 af­ter his re­turn to ac­tion, spark­ing a sec­ond run to the cham­pi­onship game. There’s no saviour to wait for this time around.

Much has changed since then. There are just nine play­ers cur­rently on the ros­ter who were here for both those sea­sons, seven more who played in 2014: the rest of th­ese cur­rent Ti­cats have no mem­ory of those re­mark­able come­backs.

The coach­ing staffs are very dif­fer­ent, too. Just four as­sis­tants are left from 2013, while two key pieces — for­mer of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Tommy Con­dell and de­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Or­londo Stein­auer — are no longer with the club. Both men coached with a re­lent­less pos­i­tiv­ity that seems largely ab­sent with the cur­rent group, al­low­ing Austin’s trade­mark in­ten­sity to be­come even more prom­i­nent.

Col­laros and Con­dell were par­tic­u­larly close, and Stein­auer was ex­cel­lent at de­vel­op­ing a bond with his play­ers; Austin’s per­son­al­ity doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily lend it­self to those types of re­la­tion­ships.

TSN an­a­lyst Glen Suitor, a for­mer Austin team­mate, gave a ra­dio in­ter­view in the lead-up to the B.C. game in which he al­leged that the team missed Con­dell’s pres­ence and there was “ten­sion” be­tween Col­laros and Austin. Both men de­nied it, Austin in the strong­est pos­si­ble terms.

“There’s ab­so­lutely zero ten­sion. Don’t even give my an­swer to Zach and ask him point blank. There’s no ten­sion be­tween me and Zach. We’ve never had ten­sion,” Austin said in his postgame presser Satur­day night. “That’s ab­so­lutely ridicu­lous and com­pletely made up by Glen and he ought to be ashamed of him­self.”

If there are dif­fer­ences, they cer­tainly aren’t per­sonal. While the two men aren’t besties — again, that isn’t Austin’s style — sources say there has never been open hos­til­ity be­tween them. But both have strong opin­ions about the na­ture of of­fen­sive foot­ball, philoso­phies that may not ex­actly line up. While there may not be ten­sion in the tra­di­tional sense, there could very well be a dis­con­nect that didn’t ex­ist, or it wasn’t as prom­i­nent, in 2014.

No­body was se­ri­ously call­ing for Austin’s head that sea­son, ei­ther. That’s cer­tainly changed, as the call-in shows and mes­sage boards are filled with Ti­cat fans in­clined to show Austin the door.

They’re likely to be dis­ap­pointed, how­ever. Get­ting rid of Austin mid-sea­son would throw both the coach­ing staff and the front of­fice into chaos and there’s no ob­vi­ous in­ter­nal can­di­date to pa­trol the side­lines. He’s also un­der con­tract for two more years in ex­cess of $500,000 per sea­son, mak­ing it an ex­tremely ex­pen­sive propo­si­tion as well.

No, Austin will get the chance to recre­ate the magic runs of 2013 and ’14 — al­beit with a very dif­fer­ent cast and un­der very dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Ti­cats’ Justin Rogers, cen­tre, watches as the Lions’ Jeremiah John­son, sec­ond left, cel­e­brates his touch­down re­cep­tion on a pass from Travis Lu­lay, right.

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