Esks' war room drama

Head coach Richie Hall is happy Maurice Lloyd signed with the Eskimos. (Sun Media/David Bloom)

Head coach Richie Hall is happy Maurice Lloyd signed with the Eskimos. (Sun Media/David Bloom)

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

Only in the CFL would they start free agency season at midnight Eastern instead of noon.

On the rare occasion when the CFL has national off-season interest and attention and are creating actual news, the league misses every newspaper deadline, local TV sportscast, etc. in the East and leaves next to no window in the West.

And this one was important, especially in a place like Edmonton where Danny Maciocia is a new full-time GM and Richie Hall is the new head coach.

There was a lot of drama lost on the league, especially as it played out in Edmonton. Maybe if it hadn't started as midnight madness the night before, it would have built to something more than it did even here when Maurice Lloyd finally signed with the Eskimos.

The difference between first place and fourth place with this team, which finished fourth but lost the Eastern Final as a crossover club could be what happened in the middle of February.

The Eskimos, since missing the playoffs for the first time in 35 years, have spent the last three seasons finishing last in the West, but Maciocia handed Hall a team which, for the first time since winning the 2005 Grey Cup, needed only specific spot upgrades instead of roster-wide improvements.

The Eskimos clearly designated middle linebacker as Position A for upgrading and moved both Agustin Barrenechea and Siddeeq Shabazz to leave themselves totally exposed in their quest to get Lloyd from the Saskatchewan Roughriders defence Hall coached last year.

At 10:01 Sunday night, the Eskimos didn't make news as they hoped they could.

Hall left the war room at the Eskimos office well after midnight and said "I wasn't the last one to leave."

Still no big news.

At 1:30 p.m. yesterday, Hall faced the media, his fingers still crossed behind his back.

While he was speaking, the B.C. Lions signed Hall's other free-agent linebacker from Saskatchewan, Anton McKenzie.

Now Maciocia and Hall really had their butts out the window.

Finally, late in the afternoon, Maciocia managed to get a verbal agreement out of Lloyd's agent, staying in the office waiting for the signed contract to show on the fax machine before he was able to relax, Hall hanging in there with him.

Welcome to the world of being a head coach, Richie Hall.

"It's only been a few hours, but it seems like a lot longer that we've been at this. It's been exciting. It's been intriguing and a very intense time. It seems like a marathon, but it's really a 100-metre race," said the new head coach at 1:30 p.m. yesterday.

Hall said the Eskimos identified six free agents to hurry hard trying to sign and said he'd been on the phone to them all, admitting that they were hurrying harder to sign Lloyd than anybody else.

"You want them to know they'll be in an environment where they'll be able to play their game and use their talents to the utmost. You want them to believe they could be hoisting the big trophy at the end of the year."

There was a day when the Eskimos had not only their history, the football environment in Edmonton and the reputation of how they treated people in the Eskimos family to sell but their position in the standings, a winning head coach and the chance of winning a Grey Cup every season.

Hall is 0-0 as a head coach and one of the factors in his hiring was the belief he could attract the linebacker many think will be the next Willie Pless in this league.

"The players aren't stupid. They do their homework. It was no different than me coming here."

By early evening Lloyd had signed and Hall's chance of success had improved greatly.

"He wanted to come here," said Hall. "It's a compliment to the Eskimos organization. He understood the tradition and everything that makes it a great place to play. Hopefully it didn't hurt that I was here. We have a very good relationship. He's very happy.

"He brings us attitude, an aggressive style of play, a real physical game, leadership, football awareness that you just can't coach. Today was good day for the Edmonton Eskimos. At the end of the day I hoped I'd be smiling."


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