Esks coach has an all-business plan in wake of GM's dismissal

Kavis Reed talks to his players after practice at Clarke Park on June 9. Reed gathered his staff...

Kavis Reed talks to his players after practice at Clarke Park on June 9. Reed gathered his staff and team captains together on Sunday for a meeting on getting back to business on their semifinal game against the Toronto Argonauts next week following the dismissal of the team's GM Saturday. Perry Mah/Edmonton Sun

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:23 PM ET

EDMONTON - You've heard of focus groups?

Kavis Reed created a different kind of one Sunday.

The Edmonton Eskimos head coach had planned to give his playoff-bound football team an extra day off Sunday. But when Eric Tillman was fired Saturday afternoon, he changed his mind.

Reed brought 10 members of the team in for a meeting to put the firing of Tillman and other issues involving CEO Len Rhodes in the rear-view mirror to begin the week of preparations for the cross-over Eastern Division semifinal.

“I met with the coaches first,” said Reed. “We talked about our challenge to keep the focus of the team completely centred on playing this football game in Toronto with everything that’s happened and the distractions which are likely to surround this game.

“We brought in our captains and some of our leaders to talk about how it’s going to be about 46 players we’re taking to Toronto. At different times this year we’ve dealt with adversity well and at other times not as well.

“My take on these guys was that they’re going to take it all as a rallying call,” he said of Fred Stamps, J.C. Sherritt, Kerry Joseph, Kyle Koch, Mathieu Bertrand, T.J. Hill, Hugh Charles, Marcus Howard, Donovan Alexander and Ted Laurent.

The firing of Tillman was something Reed had to deal with on several levels.

It’s believed he wasn’t likely to return as coach under the conditions with which he had to operate, including doing all of Tillman’s GM duties not associated with player personnel if they continued to exist for the third year of his contract.

But Tillman is also the guy who gave him his dream job, to be head coach of the Eskimos after a decade of working with various teams around the CFL without moving his family from Edmonton and returning every off-season to live in the city where he played.

“I had a very long conversation with Eric Saturday night,” said Reed.

“It was a difficult conversation. I’m sure he’s going to go through the stages of disappointment to hurt to anger but he was dealing mostly with disappointment and hurt.

“I told him I was very grateful he championed me to be head coach.”

Reed, the man many believe should be the next GM and coach of the Eskimos, minus the player-personnel part (the Wally Buono/John Hufnagel model), refused to discuss whether he’d be interested in the GM job or his role next year in any way, shape or form.

“I’m trying to be like the players and the rest of the coaches and do nothing but focus on this team and the playoffs. I have to set that example and not be focused on anything but what we have in front of us this week.

“I am not going to send any mixed messages to this team or this franchise.”

With the fact that 14 relatively high-profile Eskimos are about to become free agents including most of the starting defence, Reed also has that to deal with.

He admitted the list of players Tillman allowed to make it to the end of the season without being approached to sign new contract as published in Sunday’s Sun — including J.C. Sherritt, T.J. Hill, Marcus Howard, Damaso Munoz, Rod Williams, Julius Williams, Weldon Brown and Chris Thompson — is accurate.

He said he doesn’t believe it’ll take any of their focus away from the game.

“I believe they’ll concentrate on playing in the post-season and not spend any time being worried about their contracts. If anything, good playoff performances will raise their stocks.”

With all potential remaining games being indoors (East semi in Toronto, East final in Olympic Stadium in Montreal and the Grey Cup in Toronto) Reed will take the team indoors at the Eskimos’ field house for practices.

They’ll go Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, travel Friday and have a walk-through Saturday.

The game on Remembrance Day, you should know, features a kickoff scheduled at the inappropriate time of 11 a.m. back in Edmonton.

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