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Ticats hire Kent Austin to be head coach, head up football operations

Newly-named Hamilton Tiger-Cats coach Kent Austin holds up a team helmet at a news conference in Hamilton, Ont., Monday, Dec.17, 2012.

The Canadian Press

Kent Austin turned down the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last year. But this time, he said the offer was too good to refuse.

The CFL club introduced Austin at a news conference Monday as its new head coach, vice-president of football operations and general manager.

He replaces George Cortez, who held the first two positions for a single season. Cortez was fired last week, after the Ticats finished 6-12, missing the playoffs.

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The Tiger-Cats approached Austin, 49, about just the head coaching vacancy last year, before they hired Cortez. But Austin said Monday it simply was not a good fit for his family at the time.

"Sometimes, these opportunities only come around once," said Austin, adding the added positions made the offer more appealing this year. "This time, it came at a time that works for us."

Austin has been away from the CFL for five years, coaching U.S. college football. Before that, he spent 15 seasons in Canada as a player, assistant coach and head coach, winning Grey Cups at each step.

In 10 seasons with the B.C. Lions, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Austin was one of the CFL's top quarterbacks. He amassed the 11th-most passing yards (36,030) and third-best completion percentage (.576) in league history.

He was at the helm when the Riders won the 1989 Grey Cup over the Ticats, and he was named the title game MVP. He also quarterbacked the Lions to a championship in 1994.

When the Argonauts won it in 2004, he was their offensive co-ordinator. As head coach of the Roughriders in 2007, he took them to their first Grey Cup in 18 years and was named CFL coach of the year.

Austin left the CFL to co-ordinate the offence at his alma mater, the University of Mississippi for two seasons. He then went on to became the head coach at Cornell, where the Big Red went 11-19 in three seasons.

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"Kent has always been front-of-mind," Ticats president Scott Mitchell said, as the team announced its third head coach in as many seasons. "I always thought he had talent beyond being a head coach. I thought he was a perfect fit."

Hamilton is coming off a disappointing season, and heading into a crucial one in which they must draw fans despite playing home games at the University of Guelph. (Ivor Wynne Stadium is being demolished and a new stadium built in its place, slated to open in 2014.)

During Cortez's one season in Hamilton, the Ticats offence scored a league-high 538 points and Henry Burris had the most passing yards of any CFL quarterback (5,367), but the defence was statistically one of the worst in many categories.

Bob O'Billovich, who had served as general manager since 2008, has been offered a position as a consultant to Mitchell and the football operations staff.

Austin said he has not decided whether he will also take on the offensive co-ordinator duties himself. He admits the schedule for evaluating and making changes to the team will be aggressive, since it's already NCAA bowl season, often prime grounds for finding new players.

"There are a lot of reasons to be excited about this opportunity, namely the strong ownership in place, a very passionate group of fans behind us and the chance for immediate success," Austin said. "I can't wait to begin working on our goal of bringing another Grey Cup championship to the city of Hamilton."

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