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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