|Esks head coach Kavis Reed runs practice at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011. (Perry Mah/QMI Agency)
EDMONTON - It's been a long time since the Edmonton Eskimos have won multiple awards on Grey Cup Week.
The last time was in 1989 with Tracy Ham as most outstanding player and Rod Connop as offensive lineman. Edmonton players haven’t won in either of those categories since. And it’s not going to happen this year, either.
But a drought since 1995 rookie of the year, since 2002 at most outstanding defensive player and since 2008 at top Canadian could come to an end this year in voting for the Gibson’s Finest Awards with the Edmonton nominations of J.C. Sherritt, Rod Davis and Jerome Messam, respectively, in those categories.
And there’s another award out there to consider today.
Since the CFL Coach of the Year award was first instituted in 1961, only four Eskimos’ coaches have won it — and Kavis Reed may be the single most deserving member of the Eskimos to win a CFL award this season.
Only nine first-year coaches have ever won the Annis Stukas Trophy as the top coach — the same number as the total of rookie coaches who have ever won the Grey Cup.
Only three — Adam Rita in 1991, Kent Austin in 2007 and John Hufnagel in 2008 — have won both the Grey Cup and Coach of the Year Award the same season.
Only Ray Jauch in 1970, Hugh Campbell in 1979, Ron Lancaster in 1996 and Tom Higgins in 2003 have been Annis Stukas Award winners in Edmonton. That Campbell coached the team to five consecutive Grey Cup titles yet only won one Coach of the Year Trophy remains one of the league’s greatest unsolved mysteries.
But there has definitely been a history of giving the award to the coaches who perform worst-to-first heroics than the ones who take their teams from first to first.
The Grey Cup has seldom been up for grabs like it is this year, with five teams going into the final week of the season with 10-7 records. And you’d have to figure that Reed and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach he worked for as a defensive co-ordinator last year, Paul LaPolice, are the co-favourites for the Coach of the Year award — both coaching teams which missed the playoffs last year.
While a Grey Cup would almost certainly guarantee it for either, as this regular season winds down, Edmonton players are lining up to toast the coach who took 23 new Eskimos and a dozen new starters to the position they are in going into the final game of the regular season Friday night against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“He definitely deserves that award. He’s really the reason we’re in the position we’re in,” said Greg Peach.
“The atmosphere he’s developed here is really awesome. It’s been a really fun year. Hopefully we can finish it off to make it a really special season for him and everybody who has been part of this,” added the third-year Eskimo.
“He’s one of those coaches who makes you want to go out there and play for him,” says Fred Stamps.
“He communicates with the players. I’m very impressed with the job he’s done. It’s been a good year and he’s done a good job of putting us in position to finish strong and get to our goal.”
Ricky Ray said the proof is in the standings, even if Reed’s young team has taken two steps forward and one backward so far this season.
“You can’t argue with what he’s done here. He’s worked hard to bring excellence and pride and tradition back here from Day 1. He’s brought former players back in here and really emphasized the Eskimo way and that part of it. He’s created a real great environment to play in here,” said Ray.
“He’s done a phenomenal job. He’s instilled so much confidence in us, so much belief in us,” said T.J. Hill.
“He’s one of those players’ coaches you like to have. I want a coach who tells it to you like it is and yet is a coach you can have a conversation with,” said Sherritt.
“He’s a good guy and a real competitive guy. You can see that on the sidelines. He knows how to discipline guys. He definitely asserts his will. You definitely know he’s the head coach. And you play how he coaches you to play,” said Marcus Howard.
You get the idea. Kavis Reed has won the respect of his football team. And unlike the other awards, the players still have time to make him an award winner.