The disappointment of Hamilton's 24-21 East Division home loss to the Edmonton Eskimos on Sunday remained clearly etched on Austin's face Tuesday. It not only marked the first time in Austin's four seasons with the Tiger-Cats that they hadn't won a playoff game but also capped the most bitter campaign of his tenure.
"I feel like crap that it ended the way it did,'' Austin said after meeting with his players and coaches. "That's why the only thing that matters is winning the championship.
"Everything else is not worth the effort.''
Hamilton (7-11) posted its worst regular-season record under Austin, yet finished second in the East Division. The Ticats had reached the Grey Cup in each of Austin's first two seasons and beat Toronto 25-22 to advance to last year's East final before losing 35-28 to the Ottawa Redblacks.
But Hamilton limped into this year's playoffs, losing five of its final six regular-season games and four straight home contests. After rallying from an 18-3 deficit to make it 21-21, the Ticats' campaign ended on Sean Whyte's nine-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining following Kenny Ladler's interception of starter Zach Collaros.
Austin, Hamilton's head coach and vice-president of football operations, said the off-season will be one of intense re-evaluation.
`"We're going to take a very critical eye in every area and it's going to start with me first,'' Austin said. "Don't think there won't be a rock that won't be turned over.
"We may go down a bunny trail that's not fruitful but we'll go down a bunch of them, I can tell you that. We have many areas we need to work on.''
Hamilton was ravaged by injuries this season, something Austin refused to use as an excuse. However, the Ticats had 88 players on their roster this season - second only to Saskatchewan (107) and 81 played in at least one game, the second-most in franchise history (88 in 2013).
Among the injured was Collaros, who made his season debut in August after recovering from major knee surgery before missing time later with a concussion. And Hamilton faced Edmonton with three of its top four receivers - Andy Fantuz, Chad Owens and Luke Tasker - all sidelined.
"We've got to keep more players on the football field,'' Austin said. "That's something we really need to dig into and have been digging into for the last couple of years.
"That's not an excuse, we're not going to make an excuse here but we need to address that and figure that out.''
The stunning resignation of offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell just six weeks before training camp didn't help, either. Hamilton hired former McMaster head coach Stefan Ptasek as its offensive co-ordinator but Austin assumed play-calling duties.
If there was a positive this season, Austin said it was the Ticats' resiliency.
"The reason that's important is it's really where you have to start to get better and build something of significance,'' he said. "If you don't have that it doesn't really matter.
"It's a great building block for us. It always has been a staple in this organization and something our staff has instilled in the players.''
Another is Collaros being able to look forward to an off-season of preparation, not rehab.
"We just had a meeting upstairs talking about OTAs (organized team activities) and I was just thinking to myself, 'Man, I just can't wait for OTAs to be out there,''' Collaros said. "I'm obviously disappointed in the outcome of the game but looking at it, the silver lining for myself is I'm going to have a healthy off-season.
"I'm really excited about that and being able to do the necessary work to be a good enough player to help this team win.''
Collaros assumed blame for Hamilton's loss, saying he didn't play well enough after completing 20-of-31 passes for 236 yards in the breezy conditions.
"I don't think I did enough for us to win,'' he said. "From an offensive standpoint you go as the quarterback goes, especially in this league.
"I can tell you from being in the locker-room the last two days ... we're a very focused and driven group and we're going to come back hungry.''
There will again be uncertainty regarding defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer. Not only does his contract expire at season's end, but Steinauer remains a top head-coaching candidate.
Austin made it clear he'd like Steinauer back but would be his biggest supporter if Steinauer got an opportunity elsewhere. As for Steinauer, he'd readily welcome a head-coaching gig but isn't against remaining in Hamilton, either.
"Am I backing down from that challenge (head-coaching job) if it comes up? Absolutely not,'' he said. "They (Ticats) have done their part in creating an environment to give us the best opportunity to win games.
"Who wouldn't want that opportunity?''