EDMONTON - In one afternoon, in the second most bizarre press conference your correspondent has ever attended in Edmonton, GM Eric Tillman was fired and president Len Rhodes was exposed.
Remember when Michael Largue, representing non-existent Swiss millionaire Lester Mittendorf, was exposed as a complete fraud while answering questions at a press conference at which he was in town with the intent to buy the Edmonton Oilers?
Eskimos’ new CEO of 11 months, Rhodes was remarkably reminiscent of Largue as he announced the dismissal of Tillman the week before the Eskimos play the Toronto Argos and Ricky Ray, the quarterback he traded away, in the playoffs.
Rhodes said he fired Tillman “for no reason.”
Given another opportunity to explain, expand or expound on that he said “no specific reason.”
Given yet another opportunity Rhodes said he fired Tillman because “as leader of the Edmonton Eskimos” Tillman didn’t fit “my vision of the future.”
Rhodes said “I have spent considerable time looking at the future direction of this club and did not see Eric as a part of this team going forward.”
Of all the coaches and general managers ever fired in Edmonton, there were more reasons to fire Tillman than almost all of them.
But until it was presented to Rhodes that the Edmonton Eskimos board has always required that such decisions be presented for final approval, Rhodes continued to take the stand, setting some sort of record for the use of “I” and “me” for a community-owned team.
“That’s the job of all leaders,” he said, of his vision for the future, later saying “I hope to bring a parade here.”
Rhodes finally said that “on Oct. 25 I went to the board with my decision.”
The correct wording would be “recommendation,” the one Rick LeLacheur used when he went to the board just prior to the dismissal of Danny Maccocia.
The reason Tillman wasn’t fired until 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 was because, said Rhodes, Tillman wasn’t here.
“The logistics were that Eric wasn’t in town until (Friday).”
Eric Tillman not being in town was one of a long list of reasons the Eskimos board of directors knew he had to be replaced.
While Tillman said his wife and family would be joining him in Edmonton at the start of the school season two years ago, Tillman never left Regina, working out of his office there and paying his own expenses to commute back and forth, often driving.
The Eskimos allowed Tillman to remain in Regina because, as a highly placed member of the executive put it “the office ran better with him away from it.”
Tillman refusing to live here was huge with the board.
“It’s a community-owned team. And I think they’d have been happier if he’d been living in Mississippi than Regina,” said a source connected to the board.
“With the future GM, I’d prefer if he lives here,” Rhodes did allow.
Tillman had a year remaining on his contract.
And what follows might be the biggest reason of all for firing Tillman.
There was no mention of the idea that Tillman, who didn’t make a single road trip all year other than the one for the game in Toronto, had a desire to leave the Eskimos to take over as general manager of the Argos — one that may be shared by Argos owner David Braley.
Four separate sources, inside the Eskimos organization believe it has a good chance to happen.
“It’s very believable,” said perhaps the most prominent of them all.
“It’s conceivable that’s where he ends up,” said an executive level source.
The concept is so believable, your agent learned that retiring CEO and president Rick LeLacheur felt it was his duty to heads-up Rhodes and the board of directors a few weeks following the Ricky Ray trade that such word was out there.
To suggest Tillman was high maintenance was an understatement.
“Eric spent more time worried about what people were saying about him and trying to substantiate trading Ricky Ray than looking for players,” said another Eskimo employee very close to the situation.
Instead of “no reason” there were plenty of reasons Tillman was fired. And trading Ricky Ray was not at the top of the list.
The No. 1 reason, I believe is they came to the conclusion that things had become so un-Eskimo-like on the football ops floor that head coach Kavis Reed was not going to return and put himself through any more of what he’d been forced to go through under Tillman.
Reed, who was essentially doing most of the general manager’s job not related to recruiting for the past two years, was given his dream job by Tillman. Hiring Reed was the best move Tillman made.
That Eskimos board members came to the conclusion that Reed couldn’t take any more in his dream job speaks volumes about how bad the situation had become under Tillman.
Reed was looking after all football administration, travel, player movement, salary cap management, etc. — virtually everything that didn’t involve personnel.
The number of players who, at the end of the regular season are unsigned and about to become free agents is ridiculously long.
It’s almost criminal the way it sits.
Fourteen relatively high-profile Eskimos are about to become free agents including most of the starting defence.
J.C. Sherritt. T.J. Hill. Marcus Howard. Damaso Munios. Rod Williams. Julius Williams. Weldon Brown. Chris Thompson.
“They’ve never been approached with offers,” said a football side source.
Tillman helped push himself out the door when he put an element of the team’s future at risk by supplying to the Sun the names of nine quarterbacks on the team’s negotiation list with a breakdown on each one.
The reason for the timing of the dismissal of Tillman wasn’t the fact that the Eskimos are playing the Argos.
It was that it’s all in the coaches and players hands now. For the GM, it’s all about next year. Ed Hervey and Paul Jones have a go list ready in case players need to be brought in as injury replacements.
“I’ll be leading the search both externally and internally for candidates,” Rhodes enthused.
Not so fast fella.
There needs to be an examination why media relations director Dave Jamieson, Ryan Wagner, football administration, Brad Morgan community relations, Duane Vienneau marketing and brand management (he quit Friday) all resigned during the season.
Several others have been waiting to see how this all unfolds at the end of the year.
Did, as two highly placed members of the football ops part of the business maintain, Rhodes take $100,000 out of the football budget to move to his highly unsuccessful half-time and post-game concerts?
That ought to be looked into, too.
Eskimos board chairman Allan Sawin and directors Bruce Bentley, John Moquin, Diane Bricker, Chris Bruce, Terry O’Flynn, Harold Roozen, Bill Scott and Brad Sparrow are going to be the laughing stock of the community if they think all is well now that Tillman has been canned.
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