EDMONTON - Eric Tillman’s son Jack turns six here Wednesday.
“When Francine and I told our kids that I was taking the job in Edmonton, Jack looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘You mean Gainer isn’t my friend anymore?’ “
Not now, kid.
Don’t hold your breath expecting Gainer The Gopher to show up at your birthday party. Not after the Edmonton Eskimos, with 14 new players in the starting 25, including the kicker, rocked the Saskatchewan Roughriders 42-28 for openers here Sunday.
New general manager Tillman, who has yet to move his family to Edmonton and still spends a significant amount of time running the team out of the office in his house, will remain here for Jack’s birthday party before he drives back to the home of the alone-in-first-place Eskimos for Saturday’s game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
That’s right, he drove here from Edmonton Saturday.
Can you imagine the stuff that went through Tillman’s head in that eight-hour trip?
He took over the Eskimos, a team that had lost its first four games to start the 2010 season, fired coach Richie Hall and the entire coaching staff other than Tim Prinsen and Mark Nelson, who had joined the team at mid-season, and then began dismantling the lineup until there were only 18 veteran Eskimos back in uniform to start the 2011 schedule Sunday.
“I’ve always loved the solitude of long drives and the opportunity silence provides to think and feel,” Tillman said Monday morning.
“People thought I was nuts to drive when we had a charter flight, but, Saturday I very much wanted to drive and reflect on many things. This weekend had so many personal dynamics and emotions.”
There was excitement, he said, and angst, taking the team with a new head coach and new co-ordinators into arguably the toughest place to play in the CFL in these circumstances.
“I have ears. I heard the criticism for months and months. Heck, Jock Climie even got after us on the pregame show on TSN Sunday, suggesting we had made far too many changes to be successful.
“Leadership requires the courage to do what you think is right. But that said, this was one game and we understand there will be bumps on the way as we build a winning team Edmonton can be proud of. But we do have a specific plan and Sunday’s performance was reflective of the formative stages of that process.”
People could be forgiven for thinking the Eskimos didn’t have a clue with all the bogus failures to pass the medicals, the airlift that appeared to be underway from the first day of camp, the experiment with making all-star linebacker T.J. Hill a safety.…
“We’ve heard that term — airlift — more than once in recent weeks, but we prefer to describe it as us simply being proactive in an effort to build a winning football club.
“That’s the commitment we’ve made to our fans, and, accordingly, when we see opportunities to improve our team, we will,” said Tillman.
“Eventually, we’re hoping for stability and continuity but, right now, we’re still building — trying to get better day by day.”
And about that brutal business to open camp, flunking Jason Barnes medical on some old ankle injury concerns as he was about to write a wonderful story coming back from a life-threating spleen injury in Hamilton last year and then ending up scoring the two touchdowns to send the Eskimos on their way to winning the opener here?
“Jason couldn’t possibly have written a better comeback story, could he?” said the GM.
“A few weeks ago, both parties could have handled that situation better. But we admit our communication mistake and Jason apologized to Kavis and me for blowing a gasket and now allowing Kavis to explain that no final decision had been made. Hey, human beings make mistakes, and we all try to go forward better and wiser.
“In this situation, the end result has been a good young man getting a chance to play the game he loves for the team he loves. It’s a great feel-good story, and we’re happy for Jason’s success on Sunday.”
Pretty much everybody in green and gold was a feel good story Sunday.
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