Let’s put the change thing to rest

TEAM MUST STAY THE COURSE

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DREW ED­WARDS

This is prob­a­bly a good thing, but Casey Print­ers isn’t walk­ing through that door.

The for­mer CFL quar­ter­back, now safely re­tired, was billed as the fran­chise saviour when he was signed mid­way through the 2007 sea­son, a cam­paign now not-so­fondly re­mem­bered for its ab­ject dys­func­tion rather than its stel­lar foot­ball.

It was also the last time the Hamilton Tiger-Cats started the sea­son 0-4.

The Ti­cats have re­turned to those depths once again, cour­tesy of Thurs­day night’s 31-28 loss to the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos. De­spite mostly play­ing well for 58 min­utes and change, Hamilton blew a 13point fourth quar­ter lead and turned a game that would have si­lenced their grow­ing le­gion of out­spo­ken crit­ics into an­other chap­ter of 2017’s dis­mal nar­ra­tive.

The bray­ing masses are get­ting louder, to be sure. Calls for heads to roll (head coach Kent Austin or de­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Jeff Reinebold top that list) or start­ing jobs to be lost — ‘the #Ti­cats should bench quar­ter­back Zach Col­laros’ fills ex­actly 50 of Twit­ter’s 140 char­ac­ters — con­tinue un­abated.

Back in the dark ages, when the Ti­cats won ex­actly 15 reg­u­lar sea­son games — com­bined — in four sea­sons — change was of­ten touted as a cure-all.

In 2005, with the team at 0-6, owner Bob Young re­as­signed gen­eral man­ager Ron Lan­caster, re­plac­ing him with Rob Katz. They fin­ished 5-13 and missed the play­offs.

The next sea­son, with the team at 0-4, head coach Greg Mar­shall was fired, re­placed by Lan­caster. Fi­nal re­sult: 4-14, out of the play­offs. In 2008, they started 1-5 and head coach Charlie Taaffe was fired in Septem­ber. An­other 3-15 cam­paign.

Sta­bil­ity ar­rived be­fore suc­cess. Gen­eral man­ager Bob O’Billovich, in­stalled be­fore the 2008 sea­son, grad­u­ally re­stored some lus­tre to the tar­nished fran­chise by for­mu­lat­ing a plan and stick­ing with it, build­ing up the ros­ter and stick­ing with young head coach Mar­cel Belle­feuille for three sea­sons, de­spite some up and downs — in­clud­ing a 1-4 start in 2010.

The point of this Ti­cat his­tory les­son? Con­stant change of key com­po­nents in foot­ball rarely pro­duces the in­tended re­sult.

And while there are no moral vic­to­ries in foot­ball, the Ti­cats do ap­pear to be show­ing the “con­stant im­prove­ment” that Austin so con­stantly harps. They were com­pre­hen­sively ter­ri­ble week one against Toronto, but showed some signs of life against the Rid­ers. They played bet­ter against B.C., es­pe­cially early on.

On Thurs­day, they gave the Eski­mos, con­sid­ered by many to be the best team in the CFL right now, all they could han­dle.

Austin said af­ter: “We played well enough to win, we just gotta learn to fin­ish off foot­ball games.”

And while it’s easy to snort de­ri­sively while point­ing at the score­board (and the stand­ings), he’s not wrong. Which isn’t to say the Ti­cats don’t have real prob­lems.

Col­laros, who played bet­ter against Ed­mon­ton, is still miss­ing his full mojo, the swag­ger that made him vir­tu­ally un­stop­pable in 2015 and for stretches last year.

The of­fence’s in­abil­ity to get four yards — four stinkin’ yards — with the game on the line was as much re­spon­si­ble for the loss as the de­fence’s col­lapse in the fi­nal 90 sec­onds.

But there were some signs of the ever-elu­sive “com­ple­men­tary foot­ball,” in­stances where of­fen­sive ex­e­cu­tion was fol­lowed by qual­ity de­fen­sive play and sup­ported by ef­fi­ciency on spe­cial teams.

When things are go­ing well un­der Austin, the abil­ity of suc­ces­sive units to take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented by the pre­ced­ing one hap­pens with reg­u­lar­ity. We fi­nally saw glimpses of it on Thurs­day. There’s noth­ing to do but stay the course. Even if the Tiger-Cats re­turn from a di­a­bol­i­cal West­ern road swing at 0-6 — and that’s to­tally in play — they’ll still have seven home games left and a slew of matches against East Di­vi­sion op­po­nents.

And the play­offs will still be in reach, al­beit with­out any mar­gin for er­ror.

But dras­tic change won’t change those odds for the bet­ter. Just ask Casey Print­ers.

DAVE CHI­D­LEY, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ed­mon­ton’s Eu­clid Cum­mings hits Hamilton Tiger-Cats quar­ter­back Zach Col­laros as he throws an in­ter­cep­tion to end the game Thurs­day.

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMILTON SPEC­TA­TOR

Mike Reilly gets slammed, one of sev­eral big hits the Ed­mon­ton QB ab­sorbed.

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