Esks' Joseph: hero or zero?

Injured Edmonton Eskimos' quarterback Ricky Ray helps new QB Kerry Joseph with the plays during...

Injured Edmonton Eskimos' quarterback Ricky Ray helps new QB Kerry Joseph with the plays during Wednesday's practice at Commonwealth Stadium. (Perry Mah, Edmonton Sun)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:42 PM ET

EDMONTON - There have been few hero-to-zero stories in all of Canadian sports history quite like the rise and fall of Kerry Joseph.

Eric Tillman took a largely inconsistent, mostly ineffective, hardly stereotypical quarterback from out of football to Ottawa and then to Saskatchewan, then watched Kent Austin coach him up to win the CFL Most Outstanding Player award and the Roughriders win the Grey Cup with him at the helm.

Then, after that one spectacular season of success, Joseph figured he deserved to hit the jackpot and get rich quick and Tillman told him to hit the road and get a reality check even quicker, trading him to Toronto.

The Argos promised Joseph No. 1 status then they created a birdbrained quarterbacking controversy.

President Pinball Clemons wanted Joseph. New head coach Rich Stubler wanted Michael Bishop.

Everyone was fighting with everybody beyond belief.

Last year entered Bart Andrus, quite possibly the worst head coach in CFL history. The team was a disaster. Joseph, with an offence even less suited to him than the one Stubler had the year before, was beyond brutal. In February of this year he was released. And, at age 37, nobody wanted him as a reclamation project. Until Tillman, of all people, brought him here as an emergency replacement for the injured Ricky Ray, that is.

After arriving Tuesday evening, Joseph was on the Commonwealth Stadium field for his first practice with the team Wednesday wearing No. 16 instead of No. 4, with Tillman his GM, Richie Hall his head coach, Jason Armstead returning kicks ...

“It’s like a Saskatchewan reunion here,” he said.

At this time, three years ago, football reporters were filling in their ballots naming him the most outstanding player in the league. Wednesday he was, quite possibly, the most interviewed practice roster player in Eskimos history.

“I’d never have thought it would have worked out this way,” he said.

“If I had to do it over, I would,” he added of having different contract negotiations with Tillman after winning the 2007 Grey Cup.

Toronto wasn’t a topic he wanted to deal with in detail.

“There was so much turmoil in Toronto. It was really tough. There wasn’t good structure in Toronto. If you don’t have structure, you don’t have success.

“A lot went on in that organization that people don’t even know. A lot of things were out of line. Going from Saskatchewan to Toronto wasn’t the same pro football.”

Tillman is perhaps in a better position to view the rise and fall of Kerry Joseph.

“One of the most important aspects of being a successful head coach is identifying individual strengths and then putting players in position to best use their talents to utilize their talent,” said Tillman.

“Kent Austin did a magnificent job of that in 2007 with several players but, perhaps, none moreso than he did with Kerry.

“When Kerry and I couldn’t reach a compromise on a new contract after the Grey Cup it resulted in the much-publicized trade. Looking back I think we both wish we could have found a common ground.

“We can’t change history, though, and respecting Kerry’s talent, it pained many of us to see him in such a difficult situation, especially in 2009. I don’t want to be critical of the previous staff in Toronto, but I think almost everyone agrees Kerry simply wasn’t put in a position to be successful.

“He wasn’t, isn’t, and never will be a traditional quarterback. But Kerry is a winner and a great athlete and he makes so many big plays with his mobility, strong arm and competitive fire.

“Like Jason Armstead did last week, Kerry might just surprise some doubters before this season is over. We have one objective and both those guys can help win us a championship.”

Joseph said there was a big misconception that the contract negotiation and trade to Toronto left a lot of bitterness with both he and the Eskimos new GM.

“There is no bad blood between us. Eric Tillman took me off the street and brought me to Ottawa. I spent a year out of football and off the street after I got cut by Seattle. He took me to Saskatchewan.”

Kerry Joseph only has three things to say to Tillman today.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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