EDMONTON - The most amazing thing about the Edmonton Eskimos this year is not the 4-0 start to the season or any of the fascinating facts and figures that go with it.
The stunning, staggering success story is that only four games into his rookie season as head coach, Kavis Reed appears to have brought back ‘The Eskimo Way.’
The ‘Eskimo Way’ was allowed to go away during Danny Maciocia’s reign of error, which began with missing the playoffs for the first time in 34 years back in 2006.
Reed made that his mission in taking over the position.
It sounded like the kind of talk you expect to hear from a former Eskimo at the press conference in which he returned to be head coach. But Reed has walked the talk.
It’s there to see before your very eyes, as he made a very visible example out of Rod Williams for over-celebration. He dealt immediately and emphatically with Jerome Messam on the sidelines for losing his cool and coming close to taking an objectionable-conduct penalty. And he went out on the field after the Calgary game and grabbed his guys out of scrums and sent them to the dressing room.
“Kavis and I both detest — I mean detest with a capital D — showboating and excessive celebrations,” said Eric Tillman, the new general manager who gave Reed his dream — to head coach his old team of tradition where his career as a player came to an end due to a neck injury in 1999.
“Day by day, the players are getting a clear understanding of what Kavis expects and demands.
“Act like you’ve made a first down before; act like you’ve intercepted a pass before; have discipline; demonstrate respect for the competition instead of acting like you’re on Dancing With The Stars after every touchdown.
“In truth, it’s really this simple: understand that teams win championships, not individuals; act like winning is honouring an Edmonton tradition and let our limited celebrations on the field reflect our expectations of success.”
The Eskimos lost their way when it came to ‘The Eskimo Way’ with coaches going back to Tom Higgins, who weren’t strong enough to ask and receive that kind of deportment throughout the lineup. One day receiver Ed Hervey had enough of the antics he was watching and used the media to try get the message through to the team. It kept reigns on it through winning the last Grey Cup in 2005.
Higgins went to Calgary and the Stampeders were allowed to make showboating and excessive celebrations their signature. And then Maciocia started collecting players who poisoned the pond, like Maurice Lloyd.
“Kavis is a unique balance of toughness and love. He loves to laugh and he’s quick to compliment and encourage,” said Tillman.
“But as the TSN cameras have shown two or three times early in this season, if a player needs to be reprimanded, or if a situation needs to be controlled, such as the end of the game in Calgary, Kavis will do so — and do so quickly with absolute clarity.”
Reed isn’t reinventing the wheel, he’s just putting it back on the Eskimobile.
“The little things matter, and the players are buying into that mindset,” said Tillman.
“On the first day of camp, we talked about the national anthem. Canadians — have respect for your country and those who have sacrificed for your freedom. Americans — show respect to the wonderful country that is granting you the privilege of playing professional football. So stand in a straight line and stand at attention.
“Look, there’s no doubt football teams reflect the personality of the head coach. And, with Kavis, it’s about working hard, working smart and showing respect to a tradition that countless men have contributed to.
“Under his leadership, we’re trying to rebuild that tradition here — a culture of winning with class.”
Maybe making all the changes made it easier for a new head coach to successfully sell The Eskimo Way so soon. Maybe the schedule and circumstances helped create the winning to help it sell itself. There’s some chicken-and-egg involved here.
But four games into his head-coaching career, it is quite clear, Kavis Reed has succeeded in bringing back something that’s been gone for five years.
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