Tillman prepares for Esks’ future

CON GRIWKOWSKY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:08 PM ET

It’s been three weeks since Eric Tillman took over as general manager of what had been a shaky ship.

Much of the changes that led to the team’s doubling its number of wins in three weeks over the previous nine weeks had already taken place.

Tillman inherited a coach, Richie Hall, he was familiar with and had a good rapport with. In a sense, that has relieved much of the pressure and apprehension a team would naturally feel toward any other incoming mid-season GM.

“Where we are is with four wins,” said Tillman. “The only record that matters is the one at the end of Week 18 and is that good enough to get the team in the playoffs. That we’re 2-1 since I arrived has zero relevance.”

Before addressing the media on his first day, Tillman introduced himself to the team.

“I’m really proud of these players and coaches, the way they’ve had to handle adversity,” said Tillman. “They’ve had to deal with an awful lot this year and they’ve certainly responded very well. Lesser teams with lesser character or lesser mental toughness could have folded their tent given everything that happened.

“From their record, to Danny (Maciocia) leaving. He had some very strong relationships in the locker room. We had two well-respected assistant coaches leave. There’s been a lot to deal with and these guys have perservered.

“The first day I got here, the conversation I had with them is I understand what it’s like to be down and I understand what it is to be ridiculed. Sometimes in life, you fall hard. This team had, but what defines you is what you do when you get up. That’s what we talked about the first day. I think they’ve done that and tremendous credit goes to the coaches and players.”

There’s still work Tillman needs to do to upgrade the on-field product. That will have to wait for the off-season.

Coming in when he did allows Tillman the luxury of learning what makes everybody tick. He took over a less-talented team in Saskatchewan in 2006 and the team has made two Grey Cup appearances in the last three years.

“There are clearly some outstanding football players on this team,” said Tillman. “But the difference between being good and very good often are players 25-42 (Canadian content).

“This time has been very enlightening in terms of preparing for the future. You find out who’s intelligent, you get to know the personalities, you get a sense of their physical toughness.

“Intelligence, character, work ethic, are they team players? There’s so many aspects on a personal level that to me, it’s just like when I came to Saskatchewan in 2006.”

Edmonton, of course, is a much more different market with a long tradition of excellence and a much more demanding fan base.

“In some respects, it’s like coming to the New York Yankees,” said Tillman. “You can either be intimidated by that or relish the challenge. This is a place where football matters.

“We have a very educated fan base and a fan base with high expectations. We embrace that. We view that as a positive. You work hard and you work smart.”

con.griwkowsky@sunmedia.ca


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