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Austin says he's intent on building Hamilton Tiger-Cats into Grey Cup winner

Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin is shown on the side lines during CFL Football action between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Ottawa Redblacks in Hamilton, Ont. on Friday, August 18, 2017. Austin says he's not going anywhere. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin is shown on the side lines during CFL Football action between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Ottawa Redblacks in Hamilton, Ont. on Friday, August 18, 2017. Austin says he's not going anywhere. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

HAMILTON — Kent Austin has no intention of leaving the Hamilton Tiger-Cats following the worst season of his CFL head-coaching career.

The Ticats' vice-president of football operations told reporters Monday he remains focused on winning the franchise's first Grey Cup title since 1999. Austin's statement came a day after several anonymous players criticized Austin's coaching and management styles in a published report and said they didn't want him back next season.

Austin, who has two years remaining on his contract, chalked up the criticism to Hamilton (6-12) falling short of an East Division post-season berth. And Austin emphatically stated he's not spoken to anyone about another job elsewhere.

"I would say when you have a season like this and when you have to make decisions that you always should do for the betterment of the football team, not everybody is going to agree with those decisions," he said. "That's the nature of the job we're in.

"But I think anybody who's been around me would understand I've always done things for the betterment of this football club."

Austin cited his decision to step down as Ticats coach as an indication of that.

After an 0-8 start to the season, Austin appointed June Jones interim head coach. The Ticats were 6-4 with Jones on the sidelines.

"I made the decision for what I felt like was absolutely the best thing for this organization. Period," he said. "It's completely ludicrous to think I wouldn't be 100 per cent behind the success of the organization, especially when it would have a direct impact on my coaching career."

Austin, 54, is in his fifth season with Hamilton. He led the Ticats to consecutive Grey Cup appearances (2013-14) and four straight playoff berths before this year.

Austin has a 48-50 regular-season record as a CFL head coach with Hamilton and Saskatchewan ('07). He led the Riders to a Grey Cup title before becoming an assistant coach at Ole Miss, Austin's alma mater.

The players cited in Sunday's report in the Hamilton Spectator felt Jones's return would be unlikely if Austin remained with the Ticats.

"We're working through that (Jones's potential return) over the next two, three, four weeks," Austin said. "June has done an unbelievable job and did the job we felt he would do.

"He came into a very tough situation and did a great job. His performance and how he handled things speaks for itself."

Hamilton owner Bob Young didn't attend Monday's news conference but took to social media to give Austin a vote of confidence.

"This is just sad," Young tweeted. "A cowardly Ticat player, maybe two, complain anonymously to a naive journalist about a former coach."

That prompted many angry responses from Ticats fans but Young remained undeterred.

"The lesson here is: don't trash your former boss. Both because he is a “former” boss, and doing so anonymously makes you look cowardly," he said in one tweet.

"With exception of last year or so, Kent Austin was arguably most successful HC, in @CFL history. Good coach, better person."

"Where is the love for a coach who took @Ticats to @CFL Grey Cup twice in four seasons?" Young added in two other posts.

Austin said he's OK with no longer being a coach, at least for the time being.

"Right now I am," he said. "I love my job, I love the people I work for.

"Things in life have a way of working out sometimes the way you thought and a lot of times the way you didn't think. I've learned your path can sometimes take a different direction that can actually be a positive and real benefit for your career and yourself personally."

Austin has more to do this off-season than hire a full-time head coach. Over 20 Ticats are scheduled to become free agents in February, including starter Jeremiah Masoli and 1,000-yard receiver Brandon Banks, two players who excelled under Jones.

There's also the matter of what Hamilton will do at quarterback with Masoli, former starter Zach Collaros — who's reportedly scheduled to earn over $540,000 next season — and potentially Johnny Manziel. The former Cleveland Brown is on the Ticats' negotiation list and they have until Nov. 30 to offer him a contract.

But even if Manziel accepted Hamilton's offer, the former Heisman Trophy winner would have to meet certain conditions established by CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie before being deemed eligible to play.

"I'm still waiting for an update (from the league)," Austin said. "I'm certainly in contact with (Manziel's) agent quite frequently and when I have more information I'll be glad to share it."

And moving forward, Austin said he'll continue to remain true to himself and make the decisions he believes are in the Ticats' best interests.

"I'm going to stay true to my character and integrity and how I treat other people, to treat them fairly and always do what's best for the collective," he said. "I've never made a decision when it wasn't wrapped in that as the No. 1 priority.

"That won't ever change."

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