Fans weren’t the only ones surprised when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats announced they hired disgraced college coach Art Briles. The commissioner of the CFL, Randy Ambrosie, was also caught off guard.
“My mistake was, I thought it was a conversation, not a decision, and was surprised on (Aug. 28 when the Ticats hired him),” Ambrosie said in a one-on-one interview Sunday with the Green Zone.
“But to be fair, I have to take responsibility for that as well. I should have been much more clear and decisive on the Friday to be absolutely sure where we were in that process and I’ve learned from that.”
Briles was the head football coach of Baylor for seven years before being fired by the university in the wake a sexual assault investigation. Though never convicted of any crimes, a report conducted by Baylor found that Briles had failed to act following several sexual assault allegations against his players.
Despite Briles’ history, the Tiger-Cats told Ambrosie they were discussing the possibility of hiring the infamous coach. The club surprisingly announced they hired him three days afterwards, only to reverse the decision 12 hours later following a meeting with Ambrosie. The new commissioner had only been in his post for two months at the time.
Ambrosie knew he didn’t want to have to force the Ticats into anything. But by meeting with them, he hoped instead that he could help them see the “right decision” for themselves.
“What happened from that moment was really a process and I don’t want to be a bully commissioner, that’s not my style,” Ambrosie explained. “I wanted to work through a process of trying to find a mutual understanding on how important the issue was, how important reaching the right decision was, and to do that without being the heavy-handed guy.”
Ticats owner Bob Young told 3downnation.com that Ambrosie was the driving force behind the team changing its mind about Briles.
“Unequivocally, he saw this for what it was before I did,” Young said.
That doesn’t mean the incident wasn’t a learning process for Ambrosie, too. The commissioner went to Hamilton not long after the hiring and firing of Briles to speak with the fan base about the issue. He’s since been reading a lot about domestic violence and leaning on external expertise to supplement his knowledge.
Ambrosie said he got a lot out of those conversations with fans.
“What I have learned is that victims of domestic and sexual violence, anything that surfaces in the news, their reactions are very dramatic,” he said.
“It seems like it bubbles to the surface in a very intense way and the reaction from the some of the people that I met that had been through that was so heartfelt and there were so appreciative of the decision that we made. It reminded me how serious my job really is.”
The league is now taking new steps for when these situations inevitably present themselves in the future.
“I don’t think anyone wants to write people off. I think we want people to learn from their mistakes. We want them to show remorse when appropriate,” he continued.
“I think this process for us is important because we need to uncover those who really have learned from what’s happened, who have a genuine understanding that what they did was wrong and they’re prepared to integrate back into society and into our game.”
The CFL has brought in help for that. It will be using experts who have worked with perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence to help decide if a player or coach will be given a second chance in the league. The consultant will interview them and issue a report to the league.
“That report, as now I’m understanding it much better than say two weeks ago, provides us with a lot of insight into where this person will be in their journey,” Ambrosie said.
So while the situation with Briles was difficult and unfortunate, there is a silver lining. The CFL now has a policy and process in place to deal with it in the future.
“I think we feel today that just having gone this experience is we’re in a much better position to deal with these issues going forward, if and when they happen,” said Ambrosie.