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In November, Kent Austin guided the Roughriders to their third Grey Cup title in 97 years. (The Canadian Press)

The Saskatchewan Roughriders will be defending their Grey Cup title without coach Kent Austin.

The 44-year-old announced Wednesday he is leaving to become offensive co-ordinator at Ole Miss, his alma mater.

"I struggled with this one pretty big time," Austin said at the news conference. "Having won the Grey Cup didn't make the decision any easier.

"I have a great love and affection for my university and it's not just the university, it's the people that I'll be working with."

From 1981 to 1985, he played quarterback at Ole Miss and grew up in nearby Nashville.

Austin is Ole Miss's second all-time passer and was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.

Austin replaces David Lee, his former quarterback coach, who left the school recently to join Bill Parcells with the National Football League's Miami Dolphins.

Last week, Riders general manager Eric Tillman said he gave Ole Miss permission to talk to Austin, but he would do everything in his power to keep him in Saskatchewan.

"As I jokingly said a couple of days ago, this is certainly a circumstance in life where Kent wishes he was a twin," Tillman said in a statement. Our loss is Ole Miss' significant gain.

"For everyone who bleeds green and white, this is a painful day, personally and professionally. Not only is Kent an outstanding coach, he's an equally good human being."

Austin took over as Roughriders coach on Dec. 6, 2006, succeeding Danny Barrett after being fired as the Toronto Argonauts' offensive co-ordinator.

He was hailed as a hero across Saskatchewan on Nov. 25 when the Riders defeated Winnipeg 23-19 in the 95th Grey Cup in Toronto for just their third title in the team's 97-year history.

Austin guided the Roughriders to a 12-6 regular-season record — the most victories by a rookie coach in franchise history — and the team's first home playoff game since 1987.

Tillman said Austin's place in Riders history has been cemented with his role as quarterback in the 1989 Grey Cup victory over Hamilton and coach in 2007.

He leaves Regina with two years remaining on his contract.

"From Day 1, I felt honoured and priviliged to be here [coaching the Riders]. We accomplished what we came here to accomplish, and that is to be champions," said Austin, adding he would have stayed if money was the deciding factor.

The Regina Leader-Post reported Wednesday that Austin and Tillman were close to agreeing on a contract extension that would have made the former one of the highest-paid coaches in the CFL.

Austin and Tillman reportedly had begun preliminary discussions about a contract extension before he was contacted by Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt about the offensive co-ordinator's vacancy.

Tillman also told the Leader-Post a week ago that he had a plan should Austin choose to leave.

"If you're not planning for the future before it gets here in this business, then you're always reacting," Tillman said. "I'm always running through what-if scenarios whether it be for quarterbacks, co-ordinators or coaches."

Tillman added one would be naive to think Austin's services wouldn't be in demand, in Canada or in the United States.

"It's a remarkable accomplishment what our coaches and players did in one year," he said. "[But] if Kent should decide [going to Ole Miss] is what he wants to do, we'll go to training camp with the same goals — that's to win a championship."