announced the finalists for the 2014 Coach of the Year award, one name was conspicuous by its absence: Kent Austin.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach failed to make the final cut, as Calgary John Hufnagel (who won the award the night the Stamps won the Grey Cup), Edmonton’s Chris Jones and Montreal’s Tom Higgins are the three men who will vie for the award.
Hufnagel’s and Jones’ nominations are understandable and deserved. Hufnagel led the Stamps to a 15-3 regular season record and a Grey Cup championship, while Jones took Eskimos team that was 4-14 in 2013 and got them to the West Final in 2014. There are zero reasons to question their respective cases.
But that leaves Higgins.
Higgins’ résumé isn’t all that much different than Austin’s. Both teams started slow – the Als started 1-7, the Ti-Cats started 1-6 – before turning their seasons around and making the playoffs. Both teams dealt with quarterback issues, with Montreal not really finding their footing until Jonathan Crompton was inserted into the starting lineup and Hamilton just barely treading water while Zach Collaros recovered from an early season concussion; and both teams finished 9-9, before meeting in the East Division Final. Both their seasons were remarkably similar, with one, somewhat-large caveat: Austin’s Ti-Cats went to the Grey Cup. Putting it all together, it seems like it should have been Austin, not Higgins, who was the third nominee for Coach of the Year.
Now, some could argue that Higgins did more with less. The Ti-Cats were coming off a Grey Cup appearance and more was expected on them. The Ti-Cats were good last season, but the expectation was that they be great, while the same success was not expected in Montreal. Despite the Als coming off a playoff appearance in 2013 and many commentators believing they had found Anthony Calvillo’s successor in former Heisman winner Troy Smith, the Als turnaround was deemed more impressive than what Austin did with the Ti-Cats. Obviously things didn’t work out as planned for Montreal – Tory Smith flamed out rather spectacularly – but it’s not like the cupboard was bare for Higgins when he arrived in Montreal.
And none of this takes into account the stadium issues that Austin’s team dealt with again in the first half of 2014.
All things considered, Kent Austin probably should have been a nominee again this year.