EDMONTON -- Until yesterday, the joke was that 5-foot-6 Richie Hall was a natural for everybody's short list. But it took a vertically challenged general manager to finally look him in the eye and see a head coach in there somewhere.
In his first move as GM of the Edmonton Eskimos, Danny Maciocia had the guts to do what nobody else was able to do when he got down to the short list.
He gave the nicest guy in the game, the quiet, soft spoken, always-smiling, most-qualified assistant coach never-to-be-named head coach the job as the 18th -- and first black -- head coach in the team's 60-year history.
How many times has Hall been interviewed for the job as a CFL head coach?
"I have no idea," said Hall.
"It's seven," said GM Maciocia who did his homework.
"Seven?" said Hall. "That was my jersey number. I was in my seventh year in the league when we won the 77th Grey Cup."
ON SHORT LIST
Hall was up for virtually every head coaching job in the CFL since the turn of the century. And that's a lot of them. In the last year alone every club in the league has hired a new head coach except the B.C. Lions.
Hall was twice on the short list of the Saskatchewan Roughriders who passed their long-time defensive co-ordinator over to hire Kent Austin and then Ken Miller. He was also interviewed for the Eskimos job four years ago which went to Maciocia, the Winnipeg job given to Doug Berry, the Montreal job given to Marc Trestman and the Toronto job which is still open.
"I never looked at it as being passed over. I always looked at it as that my timing wasn't right," he said.
As for being the first black coach in Eskimos history, Hall said it's mostly meaningless to him.
"I'm Richie Hall. This is my package. I'm 5-foot-6 and a hundred and some pounds and I happen to be black."
Until yesterday he'd mostly been green.
After starting his career with the Calgary Stampeders, the defensive back moved to Gang Green in Saskatchewan and, at the end of his playing career, became an assistant coach and eventually the defensive co-ordinator of the Roughriders.
"I came to the CFL in 1983 -- the year before the Eskimos had just won their fifth consecutive Grey Cup. Over the years I've heard so much about the Eskimos organization and what makes it so special. I've heard a lot about the Eskimos way, the Eskimos family. They always beat us. I hated them. But I hated them in a way which was with admiration."
Hall, 48, was asked how he expected this to go down with Saskatchewan fans.
"Hopefully they'll be mad. Actually I hope they'll be happy for me. I was there for such a long time hopefully they'll miss me. It's like a child moving away from home. I've been there 20 years. When I was traded there, it was like the place you don't want to go is Saskatchewan. But I've felt blessed to have been there."
He's certainly thrilled for himself.
"I can't believe this," he said of walking into the room where a bank of 15 TV cameras and reporters were standing three rows deep to welcome him.
"This is pretty exciting for myself. It almost feels like I hit the lottery. It's a great Christmas present."
Hall, who signed a three-year contract believed to be in the neighborhood of $180,000 a year, says it's perfect timing to take over this team.
"It's a great opportunity. What they did last year was pretty special," he said of going from a five-win season to a 10-win year and reaching the East Final as a crossover club. "There's a sound, solid foundation."