Hamilton

Tiger-Cats made 'serious mistake' in hiring Art Briles, owner says

The owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats says the CFL team made a "large and serious mistake" in hiring Art Briles, who was fired from Baylor University in Texas, as assistant head coach.

'I think we got wrapped up a little bit too much in the inner sanctum of football discussions': Ticats CEO

Hamilton Tiger-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell spoke with reporters about the nixed hiring of Art Briles Tuesday morning. 0:33

The owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats says the CFL team made a "large and serious mistake" in hiring Art Briles as assistant head coach.

Briles was let go as football coach at Baylor University in Texas in 2015 after officials determined multiple allegations of sexual assault against players, including an alleged gang rape, had been mishandled by the football department.

In a statement Tuesday morning, Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young apologized to fans.

"We made a large and serious mistake," he wrote.

But fans and anti-violence-against-women advocates remained skeptical about the culture of a team that would make such a hire.

"We want to apologize to our fans, corporate partners and the Canadian Football League," Young said. "It has been a difficult season and we are searching for answers. This is clearly not one of them.

Ticats owner Bob Young, seen here in a 2014 file photo, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying the team had made a serious mistake in hiring Art Briles. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"We have listened, we are reviewing our decision-making processes and we will learn. We will go on. We want to thank our fans, partners and the CFL for their help and support."

Young followed up with a tweet afterward, saying, "We should not have been surprised by the reaction."

'When you make a mistake like this'

CEO Scott Mitchell had a similar sentiment speaking with reporters Tuesday morning.

When you make a mistake like this and you have a serious situation to deal with, there's lessons to be learned," Mitchell said. "And I can tell you we've learned a great amount in the last 24 hours. And I think a thorough review of our hiring practices and how we make decisions is very important."

He also said he wasn't anticipating the backlash against the hiring of Briles to be as strong as it was.

Lenore Lukasik-Foss, director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and Area, known as SACHA, said she was dumbfounded when she heard of the decision. (Kirthana Sasitharan‏/CBC)

"I think we got wrapped up a little bit too much in the inner sanctum of football discussions and forgot about very important things like our standing in the community and how this reflects upon the franchise," Mitchell said.

'We're still questioning how they could be so off-track'

Lenore Lukasik-Foss, director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and Area (SACHA), said she was heartened to see the reaction from people in Hamilton and all over North America on Monday.

But the whole turn of events suggests the team's leaders are out of touch with what sports organizations should be doing to combat rape culture, she said.

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

"We're still questioning how they could be so off-track in their decision making process that they thought this would've been an OK thing in our community," Lukasik-Foss said. "That they thought that this person was going to be the only person who could help with the losing streak that they're on."

Lukasik-Foss questioned how deeply felt the change of heart really is, especially by Mitchell, who defended the choice to the Hamilton Spectator late Monday afternoon, calling Briles "a good guy caught in a bad situation."

"That is very dismissive of a really serious situation," Lukasik-Foss said. "That would suggest that there's some more learning and awareness that needs to happen in that franchise."

'It was a very emotional thing for me'

Speaking with reporters after a practice on Tuesday afternoon, head coach June Jones said the decision made by the team was tough for him. He has known Briles for 40 years.

Ticats head coach June Jones spoke to reporters about Art Briles, whom he said he has known for 40 years. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

"It was a very emotional thing for me last evening," Jones said. I don't care to discuss a whole lot of it; I don't want to break down right here in front of you."

He said he had his own opinion on Briles's firing but said it was "meaningless" in light of what the administration had decided.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca

With files from Salimah Shivji