Continuing our CFL Soundtrack series of previews, here's a look at the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, led by a very confident figure who some attribute messianic qualities to. No, he's not Kanye West, but Kent Austin might be the closest thing the CFL has. (Warning: many of West's lyrics may be objectionable to some. Check them out at your own risk.)
At first glance, there might not be a massive crossover between Kanye West and Kent Austin. Yet, when you look at it more closely, one's a man who's publicly called out those who go against him, whose career has been known for both spectacular peaks and exceptionally deep valleys, and who's recently been in the news for his high-profile return to prominence--and the other one is Kanye West. We're talking about different spheres of influence here, obviously, as Austin has never (to my knowledge) interrupted Taylor Swift's televised award acceptance with "I'mma let you finish," while West has never (again, to my knowledge) argued with Chris Williams about his contract, but there are plenty of comparisons to be drawn between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' new coach/general manager/supreme football overlord and the rapper whose new Yeezus album is tearing up the charts.
Let's start with the most obvious comparison: the perception of both as some sort of saviour. In West's case, the aspirations to divinity may be largely brought upon by himself, while in Austin's, they seem perhaps more the product of a team and a fanbase looking to reach the Promised Land, but there are certainly those who see West as the man to redeem rap, and given Austin's oft-expressed confidence, it seems likely he views himself as the man to turn the Tiger-Cats around. Moreover, both don't necessarily have the credentials to back up their hype.
Yes, West has found some massive successes in the past, but his music remains an odd combination of meaningful and fratboyesque, and he hasn't necessarily matured into a rap statesman quite yet. Similarly, while Austin gets endless plaudits for leading the Saskatchewan Roughriders to the 2007 Grey Cup in his lone season as a CFL head coach, the rest of his resume (some less-than-stellar stints as a CFL offensive coordinator, including in Toronto where he was arguably fired for being unable to find a way to effectively utilize Ricky Williams' talent, plus some struggles as the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss and an 11-19 record in three years as the head coach at Cornell) is often overlooked. Both men are figures who at their best, can achieve something transcendent and live up to their messianic hype. The rest of the time, though, they seem perhaps closer to very naughty boys.
Beyond that, there are the public feuds. West has found those with everyone from Taylor Swift to Justin Timberlake over the years, while Austin has recently made strides on that front, particularly with his overly-blunt comments on Chris Williams' contract holdout. That isn't necessarily completely bad, as both West and Austin deserve some credit for speaking their minds rather than settling into bland mediaspeak. However, diplomacy doesn't appear to be the strong suit of either, and that's sometimes important in their chosen professions. Interestingly enough, this may matter more for Austin than West. After all, the music industry has long thrived on hype-building controversial figures. In the CFL, though, there are lesser limits to what you can get away with. As a coach, players have to want to play for you; as a general manager, players and agents have to be willing to deal with you. Austin hasn't necessarily crossed those lines just yet, but he may want to watch how critical he gets of players in the future. Unlike in the entertainment industry, headline-making controversies aren't usually seen as a positive in professional football.
What's particularly interesting to consider here is how both men are somewhat going against one of West's most famous lyrics, "No one man should have all that power." In Austin's case, the power overload is obvious. He's attempting to serve as both Hamilton's coach and general manager, a daunting task and an even more daunting one when you consider that he has a single year of experience as a CFL head coach and none at all as a CFL personnel executive. There's an abundance of power on West's side, too, though, and that's led to such silly things as being able to bring in an incredible producer like Rick Rubin only weeks before the album was to be submitted, plus his plan to leave some songs without any lyrics at all until the final moments. When you've got the power, you can get away with those kinds of manuevers, but that doesn't necessarily make them advisable.
What will this lead to for the Tiger-Cats in 2013? Well, much like West's Yeezus, they should have some incredible moments. There's a lot of talent on this team, including quarterback Henry Burris (who shone during the preseason), a deep receiving corps that includes Andy Fantuz, Sam Giguere and Dave Stala and an impressive group of linebackers. However, Yeezus has been noted for its lack of consistency, with unnecessarily coarse, crass and low-concept ideas butting heads with deep thoughts throughout. As The Guardian's Alexis Petredis writes about the album's lyrics,"the only consistent thing about them is how inconsistent they are." Similarly, there are questions as to if the Tiger-Cats can assemble their pieces into an impressive, coherent whole: they had much of this same talent last year, but finished tied for the league's worst record at 6-10 thanks to the appaling failure of their defence. If you go by the West theory that whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, they could learn from those experiences and have a fantastic year under Austin. It seems perhaps more likely that Austin's early Hamilton tenure may wind up like Yeezus, though: full of potential and with spectacular moments, but ultimately brought down by its weaknesses.
Prediction: 8-10, third in East, loss in East semi-final.