It’s been six weeks now that one of the nicest people ever placed on this planet has been forced to walk around town as the village wart carrier with a bull’s-eye painted on his brow, thanks to a collection of players who won’t consistently play hard for him.
Thursday, in perhaps his last time to talk to the team the day before a game, Richie Hall put in what may have been his last request before the Edmonton Eskimos give him the blindfold and the cigarette.
“Just do what you were brought here to do,” he said.
“If you were brought here to be a receiver, then run and catch the football. Do your job. Come to play the game mentally, physically and emotionally.”
A couple of hours later with a few moments with Hall privately, your correspondent asked him how he’s doing mentally, physically and emotionally.
“I’m at peace,” he said.
Pausing for a moment, he added an admission.
“But I am affected by it.”
Pausing again, he tried to explain.
“I understand life and I understand myself. I’m able to sleep. When I come home from work I am able to relax.
“I look at life as being about faith, family and friends. It makes dealing with things a lot easier.
“When I played with Calgary, the team almost folded. When I played with Saskatchewan the team almost folded. There were crisis times I remember from back then. My philosophy is, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”
Hall could end up as Hercules if he keeps his job here.
But it’s fair to ask the question: is this Richie Hall’s last game as head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos?
If there’s another 56-15 or 52-5 result in the offing, doesn’t it absolutely have to be?
If the Eskimos somehow (and please don’t choke on your bacon and eggs here) manage to win, or even lose while playing hard for 60 minutes, then maybe Hall won’t walk the plank this weekend.
If the Eskimos have managed to get 46 heart transplants since Monday, Hall would likely be saved the embarrassment and humiliation of being fired mid-season, even if he’s a lame-duck coach not likely to be hired by a new general manager next year.
I really don’t think they want to fire him and then hire someone to be fired at the end of the season. But if the Eskimos are going to make a head-coaching change this year, you have to figure it would be done after this game or not be done at all.
With nine days between games here and in Montreal and the start of a two-game road trip which includes the historic Touchdown Atlantic game against the Toronto Argos in Moncton, N.B., this spot in the schedule makes the most sense.
If the Eskimos don’t play hard, what happens next?
“If that happens then you definitely don’t have the right players,” said Hall.
“I’m a simple person. When we’ve played hard, we’ve had success. In our last home game against Saskatchewan, we played hard and won. When we’ve played hard we’ve given ourselves a chance to win.
“When we don’t play hard we get games like we’ve had against Calgary.”
If it’s 50-to-something again, if it’s a team not playing hard yet again, is there a qualified coach out there willing to sign an eight-game contract with no chance of coaching here next year?
Hugh Campbell isn’t going to do it. There’s no Jackie Parker here to take over like he did when the Eskimos fired Pete Ketella after Labour Day in 1983.
You’d probably have to offer big bonus money for getting the team into the playoffs in a year when the Grey Cup is being held in Edmonton.
The only guy who comes to my mind is Dave Ritchie. He’s 70 years old now but if his health can handle eight games, he’s the kind of guy who is sitting around doing nothing and would probably be interested in taking on the challenge.
Ritchie is eighth on the all-time CFL list for wins, with 108. He was a head coach in B.C., Montreal and Winnipeg for 11 of his 25 years in Canadian football. And if it’s Tillman who ends up getting hired here, considering Ritchie coached for him before in B.C., that might end up being an interesting combination to complete a season.
And he’s old-school football tough.
Just the mere mention of him as a possibility to take over might inspire this team to play hard for Richie Hall.