Art Briles, fired after sex assault scandal at Baylor, joins Ticats staff

Even on their bye week, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are managing to create controversy.

The Ticats touched off a media firestorm Monday by announcing Art Briles will join new head coach June Jones’ staff as an assistant offence head coach. Briles, 61, was fired in May 2016 as Baylor’s head football coach after an investigation discovered the school mishandled numerous sexual assault allegations, including some against football players.

Briles’ appointment drew plenty of criticism on social media, including from Theo Fleury, the former NHL star who was sexually abused by his junior coach, Graham James.

“If you knew and didn’t say anything then you are just as much a part of rape as the people who committed rape. Shame on CFL,” Fleury tweeted.

Many other people urged CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie to step in and void Briles’ hiring. In a statement released Monday afternoon, the league said only Ambrosie was in “continuing discussions” with the Ticats about Briles.

The Ticats didn’t mention the circumstances of Briles’ firing from Baylor in their release. And there were no comments regarding the hire from Jones, vice-president of football operations Kent Austin or owner Bob Young.

‘Second chance’

Scott Mitchell, the Ticats’ CEO, didn’t immediately return a telephone message. But Mitchell told 3DownNation, a football blog, that both Young and the CFL were well aware of Hamilton’s intention to hire Briles and the organization has no intention of rescinding the move.

“This is about giving someone a second chance and we’re committed to doing that,” Mitchell said. “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.

“I think a lot of people in this world, including myself, have made bad decisions and have regrets and I certainly feel strongly that in this case, Art Briles deserves a second opportunity.”

What’s more, the Ticats announced the hiring of Briles on the same day as they were scheduled to host a women’s football clinic.

Jones and Briles were scheduled to meet with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

‘Excited to be back coaching’

“He’s excited to be back in the coaching game, I believe he belongs in college football but his skills translate to any level,” Briles’ attorney, Mark Lanier, told The Associated Press. “He’s excited to be looking at Xs and Os. He’s with a great staff. He’s just really thrilled about it. I think they’ll find him so incredible that they’ll want to keep him.”

Baylor has already settled at least two Title IX lawsuits against the school, and earlier this month reached a deal with former student Jasmin Hernandez , the first of several women to file federal Title IX lawsuits against the world’s largest Baptist university.

The school previously settled with three women who hadn’t sued. Briles has acknowledged making mistakes and apologized for some “bad things that went on under my watch.”

Briles was 50-15 in five seasons at Baylor, taking the long downtrodden program to two Big 12 championships. He has also pushed back against accusations made against him and his program in lawsuits and made clear that he wanted to return to coaching.

“He’s no longer in any lawsuits, his ties to Baylor are purely ties of friendship to a lot of the people there,” Lanier said. “He’s excited to turn that page and get to work.”​

Ticats sponsor upset

Barry’s Jewellers Ltd., one of the Ticats sponsors, denounced the hiring of Briles.

“We strongly condemn and urge the team’s management and ownership to immediately sever any ties they may have,” the sponsor said in a statement. “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 jewelry retailer said it will be donating a portion of its sales over the next two months to the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton.

Hamilton (0-8) is the CFL’s only winless team. Last week, Austin relinquished head-coaching duties and promoted Jones to that post.

Jones joined the Ticats following their embarrassing 60-1 road loss to the Calgary Stampeders on July 29.

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