Ticats back down on hiring of disgraced coach Art Briles after fan backlash

Briles was fired from Baylor after an independent investigation revealed the football program under Briles mishandled multiple allegations of sexual assault against players, including an alleged gang rape.

The team made a 'major blunder,' says Ticats owner Bob Young in a tweet

Former Baylor coach Art Briles was fired after Baylor's football program came under fire in 2016 when it was revealed university officials failed to take action following alleged sexual assaults. (LM Otero/Associated Press)

Less than 12 hours after announcing that Art Briles had been hired as assistant head coach— and facing a widespread fan and social media backlash — the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have had a change of heart.

The team and league announced he would not be taking on a role with the Cats.

Briles was fired from his previous job as head coach at Baylor University after an independent investigation revealed the football program under Briles mishandled multiple allegations of sexual assault against players, including an alleged gang rape. 

Late Monday morning, the Ticats announced they had hired him, with team CEO Scott Mitchell telling the Hamilton Spectator Briles was a "good man" and the team felt he deserved another chance.

And then, shortly before 9:30 p.m., the team and Canadian Football League jointly issued a statement.

"Art Briles will no longer be joining the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a coach," it read.

"We came to this decision this evening following a lengthy discussion between the league and the Hamilton organization. We wish Mr. Briles all the best in his future endeavours."

Later, owner Bob Young tweeted that the league had saved the team from a "major blunder" and promised a fuller apology Tuesday.

Fans of the winless Tiger-Cats had lashed out at the football team after it announced Briles as an assistant offensive head coach. 

An advertiser with the team called for the Ticats to immediately fire Briles, who was fired just last year as the head football coach at the Waco, Texas university.

Sharon Grigsby, an editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News, said she was "horrified" to hear that the coach had found a new job coaching football.

Upon hearing of a woman's allegation that she'd been raped by five of his football players, Briles texted, "Those are some bad dudes. Why was she around those guys?" according to a court filing quoted by the Dallas Morning News.

Grigsby told CBC News that text, among other instances, revealed Briles's true colours.

"'Bad dudes' were welcome on the football team, and it was up to women to make sure they stayed out of their way," she said. 

The Ticats CEO told the Spectator's Drew Edwards earlier in the day the team had extensive deliberations prior to hiring Briles and said the organization believed in giving people a second chance.

Former Baylor University head coach Art Briles is seen in a 2013 file photo. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats hired Briles as an offensive assistant head coach. (Tony Gutierrez/The Associated Press)

'What message does this send?'

Fans and anti-violence activists in Hamilton and beyond were outraged.

"What message does this send to survivors in our community – women and men who have experienced sexual violence?" said Lenore Lukasik-Foss, director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and Area (SACHA).

Lukasik-Foss said she's thinking of people for whom the news of Briles's hiring may be upsetting.

"What if you were one of the victims or you were a parent of one of the victims, now you hear this man has been hired?"

Lukasik-Foss also found the team's decision to ignore the coach's history in its announcement of his hiring disappointing.

"We don't have any information. Has he received training, has he taken any workshops or corrective actions?" she said. "Is this a person who's willing to say … I did not set the right tone for my team in terms of how I'm responding to this?"

'I guess I thought Canadians were smarter than this'

Lukasik-Foss said the hiring seemed "contradictory" considering it came just two years after the Canadian Football League passed a new policy on confronting violence against women.

Denise Christopherson, CEO of YWCA Hamilton, agreed.

"I ask myself, are the Ticats committed to the work that the CFL's been doing?" Christopherson said. "If we're truly going to eradicate violence against women and sexual assault, we have to continue calling it out, and drawing attention to it."

Grigsby, from Dallas, said the team should have known there'd be outrage over his hiring.

"I guess there's no limit to the bad decisions people will make, but I guess I thought Canadians were smarter than this," she said.

"I just cannot imagine anybody wanting to win badly enough to take on a liability" like Briles's reputation, she said.

The Ticats did not respond to a request from CBC Hamilton for comment, nor to any of the 381 direct replies to its Twitter announcement of Briles's hiring.

The CFL said in a statement earlier in the day that the league commissioner was in "continuing discussions" with the Ticats about the hire and wouldn't comment further until those discussions were complete. 

Mitchell told the Spectator earlier he stands by the decision to hire "a good man that was caught in a very bad situation" and that the CFL knew in advance about it.

He said he believes there is a "plethora of information that is not necessarily in the public realm" about Briles's involvement in the coverup but did not give specifics.

"This is about giving someone a second chance and we're committed to doing that," Mitchell told the newspaper. "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."

Reaction from fans and others online

Most of those social media reactions were damning.

Advertiser Barry's Jewellers said the company had "thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity" of working with the Ticats and being part of its "rich history" in Hamilton.

"We strongly condemn and urge the team's management and ownership to immediately sever any ties they may have," the jeweller said. "Mr. Briles may or may not have a valid coaching track record, but to choose the chance of winning football over the importance of values goes beyond our core values and is absolutely not acceptable."

The company said it would be donating a portion of sales to SACHA, the sexual assault centre. 

At least one fan disagreed with the rest.

With files from Matt Llewellyn, Canadian Press