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         === Above the 49: Austin hiring will give boost to CFL East ===
 
 By Daniel Fung, Sports Network Columnist
 
 Vancouver,  BC  (Sports Network)  - The hiring  of Kent Austin  as the new head
 coach  and general manager  of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is not only a reason for
 fans of the CFL club to get excited but a reason for the league's East Division
 to be energized as well.
 
 Coming  off  a regular season  that featured  very little drama and competitive
 balance in the East Division, the arrival of Austin to Steeltown will hopefully
 mark a return to contender status for the Ti-Cats and the start of an era where
 the East Division isn't consistently seen as a weak sister compared to its West
 counterpart.
 
 Although  the East  Division has had its  share of new contenders rise from the
 ashes in recent years with the Blue Bombers making it to the final in Vancouver
 last  year  and the  Toronto Argonauts  hosting and hoisting  the Grey Cup this
 season,  there  have been  few teams considered  consistent Grey Cup contenders
 from that division for the last decade and a half outside of Montreal.
 
 There  was a sense  that perhaps that would begin to change with the arrival of
 star  quarterbacks Ricky  Ray and Henry Burris to the East Division last season
 to  join the  Argos  and Ti-Cats,  respectively, along  with  the Blue  Bombers
 looking like they could build on their Grey Cup run the year before.
 
 However,  while Ray  managed to guide the Argos to a respectable regular season
 record  at  9-9, Burris' Ti-Cats  endured an even  worse campaign than the year
 before  while the Blue  Bombers never got off the ground at all, stumbling to a
 2-6  start, firing  head coach Paul LaPolice, and ultimately finishing tied for
 last place in the Division with the Ti-Cats.
 
 Bringing  in  Austin is no  guarantee that the  Ti-Cats will be successful, but
 given  his body  of work,  particularly  up north,  it's hard  to suggest  that
 Hamilton  isn't  better off after  Monday's announcement compared to where they
 were before.
 
 Austin  owns  four Grey Cup  rings including two from  his playing days and two
 behind  the bench, most  recently in 2007 as the head coach of the Saskatchewan
 Roughriders when he helped that club snap their 18-year Grey Cup drought.
 
 He's  also acknowledged  in many circles as having one of the greatest football
 minds  out there, which  is perhaps why the Ti-Cats were willing to hand Austin
 not  only the  head coaching  reigns but  the general  manager duties  as well,
 making  him just  one  of two  CFL  head  coaches with  the  dual role  joining
 Calgary's John Hufnagel.
 
 Having  Austin  in Hamilton  will undoubtedly  give even more  added focus to a
 division  that already  includes the defending Grey Cup champion Argonauts plus
 the  regular season  juggernaut Alouettes, who recently announced that all-star
 quarterback Anthony Calvillo will be returning to the fold in 2013 after inking
 a two-year extension.
 
 If  Austin can deliver  the goods in Hamilton as many expect he will, the focus
 on that division be even greater as the intensity of the games will surely pick
 up  with  at least  three legitimate  Cup-contending teams  in the division all
 battling to stay one leg up on the other.
 
 The  East  will finally  also be  able to  legitimately challenge the long-held
 claim that the West is best in the CFL.
 
 Now if only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers can do their part too and get their house
 in order.
 
 12/19 12:27:09 ET

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