HAMILTON, Ontario — Less than 11 hours after the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL announced the hiring of former Baylor coach Art Briles as an assistant coach, the league and the team backtracked in the face of public pressure and said he will not be joining the team after all.
“Art Briles will no longer be joining the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a coach,” read a statement released Monday night from the CFL and Tiger-Cats.
“We came to this decision this evening following a lengthy discussion between the league and the Hamilton organization. We wish Mr. Briles all the best in his future endeavours.”
The 61-year-old Briles was fired in May 2016 by Baylor after an investigation by a law firm found that over several years the school mishandled numerous sexual assault allegations, including some against football players. The Pepper Hamilton review also led to the departures of Baylor University President Kenneth Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw.
Briles has acknowledged making mistakes and apologized for some “bad things that went on under my watch.” He has also pushed back against some accusations made against him and his program in lawsuits and made clear he wanted to return to coaching.
Earlier Monday, Briles’ attorney, Mark Lanier, told The Associated Press his client was excited to get back to Xs and Os. Lanier did not immediately responded to phone messages left Monday night.
New Tiger-Cats coach June Jones, promoted last week from offensive assistant after the team got off to an 0-8 start, was ready to give Briles the opportunity to coach again.
The two have a relationship that goes back years, and their college coaching careers in Texas overlapped. Jones was at SMU in Dallas during the time Briles was head coach at Baylor in Waco, Texas. Briles led Baylor to a 50-15 record and two Big 12 championships in his final five seasons with the Bears.
A little before noon eastern time Monday, Hamilton tweeted out a news release announcing Briles had been hired as assistant head coach of offense and celebrating his college record — though making no mention of his departure from Baylor.
Backlash came swiftly and from prominent voices and sponsors.
Former NHL star Theo Fleury, who was sexually abused by his junior coach, tweeted: “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.”
Barry’s Jewelers, one of the team’s 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 company said in a statement, according to the Canadian Press. “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 hiring was announced the same day as the team was scheduled to host a women’s football clinic, which also received plenty of pointed remarks on social media.
Baylor has already settled at least two federal Title IX lawsuits against the school related to sexual assault scandal , including earlier this month when it reached a deal with former student Jasmin Hernandez, who was sexually assaulted by former Baylor player Tevin Elliott in 2012.
Briles had been removed as a defendant in Hernandez’s lawsuit.
The school previously settled with three women who hadn’t sued. The Big 12 Conference is withholding revenue from the school until an independent audit shows the university is implementing dozens of reforms recommended by Pepper Hamilton.
Initially, Ticats CEO Scott Mitchell defended the hiring and said the organization had no intention of rescinding it.
“This is about giving someone a second chance and we’re committed to doing that,” Mitchell told the 3DownNation blog, according to The Canadian Press. “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.”
By late afternoon, the CFL released a short statement saying Commissioner Randy Ambrosie was in discussions with the team regarding the hiring of Briles.
A few hours later, the league and the team released a joint statement and Briles was out of coaching again.