The right man at the right time

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:19 AM ET

Once you get past the major issue of the sexual assault case in Saskatchewan and concentrate entirely on the football side of things, Eric Tillman isn't issue-free.

The 52-year-old has his detractors. Some who have worked with him in other organizations and in television have labelled him a "wingnut."

There were issues that the Eskimos addressed with him about often being accused as a media leak.

Self-promotion has also been an issue at times.

Eskimos fans might be shocked to learn that Tillman thought Kay Stevenson was an excellent coach who was treated terribly here.

And there is the question of why, in 10 years as a general manager, Tillman is on his fifth team -- B.C., Toronto, Ottawa, Saskatchewan and Edmonton.

Which isn't to say he's a self-promoting, media-leaking wingnut who doesn't last anywhere very long so much as it is to say there's some other stuff to throw out there.

But, when it comes to being the right man at the right time in the right place, the situation here isn't unlike the one when he took over the Roughriders, replacing Roy Shivers in mid-season 2006.

He fired head coach Danny Barrett at the end of the year, hired Kent Austin and won the Grey Cup in 2007.

"It's deja vu," he said.

"I have a very specific road map we will follow. "When I went to Saskatchewan at mid-season in 2006, I listened and I watched," he said. "That was invaluable. I learned so much about the football team."

A lot of it involved "little things," he said.

"I'm not big on celebrations," he said of players doing end zone dances (currently no problem at all, being that it's hard to act like you've been there before when you can't remember the last time you visited the place).

He says he puts big emphasis on "being a team guy."

For people who were already willing to forgive Tillman his transgression, what they heard him say about football Tuesday was just about the only thing they've had to cheer about this season.

It's apparently been quite clear to Tillman, watching Eskimos games on TV, that Canadian content -- an area in which the Eskimos used to take pride in leading the league -- has become one in which they've dropped to the bottom, thanks ironically, to his Canadian predecessor.

When he listed his priorities, that came out No. 1.

"We will improve Canadian content. That will be first and foremost. But you can't pull Canadians out of the air.

"There are four elements to success: strong Canadian content, free agent moves, how you spend your money and quality coaching. That's not just the head coach, that's assistant coaches."

Tillman refused to say Richie Hall had the job through to the end of the season -- but he also said he hoped Hall would have it through next year.

It'll be interesting to see how he judges the assistant coaches in the next couple of weeks.

As for roster moves and player changes, resulting from the NFL airlift of players brought in by GM-by-committee point men Dan McKinnon and Ed Hervey, he said "there will be some."

"Our goal is to win this year, starting this weekend. It's about getting to the playoffs."

Tillman was to have spent the weekend in Vancouver to be part of the celebrations involving the 1994 Lions team he guided as general manager.

He will instead make the trip to Montreal with the Eskimos for their game Sunday afternoon against the Alouettes.

He will not go forward with the team to Touchdown Atlantic. His wife Francine and two school-aged children will remain in Regina through the winter months and move to Edmonton next summer.

Tillman said taking over a 2-8 team definitely has an upside.

"When you've tasted a little dirt, you appreciate the taste of sugar."


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