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'We're not going to back up:' Milanovich takes over the reins in Hamilton

HAMILTON — Scott Milanovich has long been aware of the fierce support for the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats as both an adversary and as part of the family.

Milanovich joined the Ticats as a senior assistant coach in 2023, and later took over play-calling duties. But as a former head coach of the archrival Toronto Argonauts, he wasn't sure how he would be first received by Tim Hortons Field's most ardent fans.

"When I came over to the other side and my wife and daughter were at the game and she said, 'Hey, I think our seats are by the Box J Boys' and I said 'Oh, might be a long game for you guys."

Turns out Milanovich's family and Hamilton's kilted supporters would get along just fine.

"The interesting thing was they kind of took them in, they loved them and they treated them like their own. It was all of a sudden, 'Hey, you're one of us now. You're part of our family now.'"

It was an example of the kind of passion that convinced Milanovich to rejoin the CFL's coaching ranks.

Milanovich was introduced as the Ticats' 27th head coach on Wednesday. He replaces Orlondo Steinauer, who stepped back from his head coaching role to focus on his duties as president of football operations

Hamilton finished with an 8-10 record last season and was eliminated by the Montreal Alouettes in the East Division semifinal.

Milanovich said "failure was not an option" when he was growing up, and he plans to instil that lesson in his players.

"The one thing I will promise you is we're not going to back up," Milanovich said. "We're going to go after this thing with guns blazing."

Milanovich, a 50-year-old from Butler, Pa., has over 20 years of coaching experience. He was named CFL coach of the year in 2012 after guiding the Argonauts to a Grey Cup.

Owing to his past accomplishments, he said that becoming a CFL head coach again was not something that he "needed."

"I had scratched that itch before on two occasions," Milanovich said. "But I always knew if the opportunity to present itself and (Steinauer) and I talked about this even before he hired me last year, that it was something that I was going to look into if it was the right situation.

"And this is the right situation with good people, with people I'm looking forward to seeing every day."

Who those people are remains to be seen. Players heading into free agency include quarterbacks Matt Shiltz and Kai Locksley, veteran linebacker Simoni Lawrence and receiver Tim White.

And there is uncertainty over the future of veteran quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.

The former Calgary Stampeders star was limited by injuries in his first season of a three-year, $1.62-million deal with the Ticats.

Mitchell will reportedly be due a significant six-figure roster bonus sometime in January. Hamilton could opt against paying that and make Mitchell a free agent.

Milanovich, who has made a career out of developing and working with quarterbacks, didn't tip his hand as to who will be under centre when the 2024 season starts. But he believes Mitchell can still deliver the goods.

"I do know that Bo still has the arm strength," Milanovich said. "He still has the accuracy, he still has the competitive fire, the leadership, he still loves the game."

Milanovich also has to firm up his coaching staff and said he is unsure if he will retain the play-calling duties he inherited when the Ticats parted ways with Tommy Condell last season, or whether the team will bring in a new offensive co-ordinator.

"It's something I certainly enjoy doing," he said. "I'm sure we'll have some announcements here in the next couple of weeks."

Milanovich spent five seasons as head coach of the Argonauts and also served as a head coach in Edmonton in 2020. He also won the Grey Cup with the Montreal Alouettes in 2009 and '10 as an assistant head coach and offensive co-ordinator.

Hamilton finished third in the East Division this past season and lost to Montreal in the East semifinal. The Alouettes went on to win the Grey Cup.

Milanovich also served as a quarterbacks coach for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars (2017-19) and the Indianapolis Colts (2021-22). He also spent time in NFL Europe with the Cologne Centurions (2006) and Rhein Fire (2003, 04-05).

Steinauer had been Hamilton's head coach since 2019, with the team adding front-office duties to his role in December 2021. The Tiger-Cats were Grey Cup finalists in 2019 and 2021, losing to Winnipeg both times. He was named the CFL's coach of the year in his rookie season.

The Tiger-Cats announced Tuesday that Steinauer would give up head coaching duties, while assistant general manager Ed Hervey was promoted to GM as part of the restructuring.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2023.

The Canadian Press