Kent Austin won't be on the sidelines this weekend when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the CFL's top team.
CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge CFL fined Austin $10,000 on Wednesday and banished him to the spotter's booth Saturday when Hamilton (6-7) takes on the Calgary Stampeders (11-1-1) for making contact with an official last weekend. It's the first time in league history a head coach has been disallowed from being on the field with his team for a game and the fine is believed to be the stiffest ever handed down to a coach.
On Tuesday, Austin told reporters he didn't believe he'd be disciplined for the altercation. Austin said the contact with official Tom Cesari was accidental and that he had received an objectionable conduct penalty on the play.
Austin also added he had apologized to Cesari. But Orridge said he couldn't overlook that Austin actually made contact with the official on the field.
"Whether it was accidental, whether it was unintentional, the bottom line is intent is irrelevant," Orridge told The Canadian Press. "I was not presented evidence that would suggest it was not accidental or intentional but the message is you cannot contact an official in a confrontational manner or context.
"This is unprecedented, and because there has been no policy up until this point it highlights the need to develop a clear policy that there will be zero tolerance of any contact with an official under these types of circumstances whatever the nature. We have to make sure there's a safe space created, a safe working environment for the officials on the field."
The incident occurred in the fourth quarter of Hamilton's 20-18 loss to Saskatchewan on Sunday in Regina. After the Ticats were flagged for illegal procedure, a perplexed Austin walked towards Cesari on the sidelines and swung his hand in frustration, slapping Cesari's hand in the process.
Cesari immediately threw a second flag, a 10-yard objectionable conduct penalty.
Predictably, the Ticats weren't happy with the ruling.
"Although we feel the punishment is unprecedented and harsh, we accept the league's ruling on the matter and move forward as we continue to prepare for this weekend's game at Tim Hortons Field," the club said in a statement.
But the Ticats didn't really have a choice. That's because unlike a player, Austin isn't part of a coaching association or union that's bound by a collective bargaining agreement with the league.
As a result, he didn't have the right to appeal the ruling and have it reviewed by an independent arbitrator.
That's what happened earlier this year when the CFL suspended Montreal receiver Duron Carter for one game after bumping Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell during a game. Carter appealed to an arbitrator, who upheld the original verdict.
It's the second time in as many years that Austin, also Hamilton's vice-president of football operations, has been disciplined by the league. Last year, the CFL fined him $5,000 for bumping into Toronto receiver Dave Stala — a former Ticat — during a game.
However, just because Austin won't be on the sidelines doesn't mean he'll be unable to coach. Assistants in the spotter's booth routinely wear headsets to relay information to coaches on the field, giving Austin the ability to speak with his on-field personnel during the contest.
"I'm not going to be monitoring his activities," Orridge said. "What we have said is he has lost the privilege to be on the field with his team coaching.
"That is unprecedented, that we have removed a head coach from the playing field during a game."
The CFL took plenty of heat this week — particularly on social media — for the time required to render its decision. But Orridge said because there was no precedent in this matter, he needed to speak individually with all the parties involved and gather as much evidence as possible before rendering a decision.
"It was very deliberate, very considered," he said. "It's fact-finding, that's my job.
"To gather all the evidence and then amalgamate and distill it before reaching a decision that's in the best interests of the league."