Image is issue for Eskimos

Esks coach Kavis Reed speaks to the media ahead of the deadline to finalize the team's roster in...

Esks coach Kavis Reed speaks to the media ahead of the deadline to finalize the team's roster in the media centre at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Friday, June 22, 2013. (Ian Kucerak/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:14 AM ET

EDMONTON - It's about image.

It's about the “lead the league in every area no matter how insignificant” flagship franchise mentality general manager Norm Kimball installed in the 1970s and Hugh Campbell carried forward in most areas to the end of the century.

Last year the Eskimos hit a new all-time low at the other end of the spectrum.

The most important thing this season for the community-owned football team is to turn the former flagship around in the other direction, not just on the field but off.

Saturday evening it looked like the former flagship looked like it was sinking trying to get out of the harbour.

Saturday night the Eskimos looked every bit the same dysfunctional organization they were under Eric Tillman as general manager and with Len Rhodes as a rookie in the CEO seat.

While all seven other teams had announced their cuts by the 8 p.m. deadline, the Eskimos had not.

Fourteen hours later, at 10 a.m. Sunday, they were released.

The reaction on Twitter alone spoke volumes:

Paul Wiecek, Winnipeg Free Press: “The Edmonton Eskimos - The only team in the CFL that makes the Bombers look like a finely tuned operation ... This better be good. Or this better be a massive fine.”

Chris Cuthbert, TSN: “Must be a logical explanation to the Eskimo cuts blackout. Did ET (Eric Tillman) take the club's fax machine on his way out of town?”

Esksfans.com: “The media has a right to complain about this. The Esks have become rather dysfunctional and it is sad to see.”

So what the heck happened? How could the Eskimos drag themselves through the dysfunctional organization mud again before they even got to their first home game of the regular season?

Ed Hervey, from everything he's done as the new general manager has been proved to be competent, efficient, effective and a total class act except incurring a $10,000 fine for tampering by announcing the signing of Odell Willis one minute after free agency opened.

“Why is everyone up in arms with the way we handled our transactions?” said the new G.M., returning my call Sunday morning.

“It's not that we're still a dysfunctional organization. It's not. I know it's not. We're nothing close to being anything like last year.

“It was my call. To me it made more sense that it all come out Sunday morning. And I'll do it again next year.

“We had until 8 p.m. to pick our team. We arrived back from our game in Vancouver at 3 a.m., Kavis Reed and the coaching staff went to watch film and the scouting staff to meet separately.

“We were the last team in the league to get at it, because we were traveling back from the game the night before.

“At 9:30 a.m. I met with Kavis to talk about the bubble boys and the salary cap and how guys fit and don't fit. The trainers had to see some players, too.

“Then we started making the cuts. I believe in taking time with the players, looking them in the eye and doing it one-on-one as opposed to a phone call.

“This year, instead of Kavis having to make all the cuts, he dealt with the veterans. Paul Jones and I dealt with all the players we'd recruited and invited to camp. That was a major change from last year.

“We got it done. We had everything completed on time. We had it all into the league before the deadline – definitely before the deadline.”

So why not announce it before 8 p.m. like everybody else?

“I believe in releasing the full roster. Some players get cut outright. Some go on the practice roster. To do that we needed, I decided to wait until the morning to release the transactions. A couple of guys wanted more time to make a decision about going on the practice roster.”

No problem with any of that, if the Eskimos tell the media that's what they plan to do and if the league doesn't have a policy and fines for not announcing it, which apparently they do not.

But there were some things Hervey did not know.

First of all his coach did a 4 p.m. media session in which Reed was blindsided by his wet-behind-the-ears media relations department. Reed figured he was there to talk about Friday night's game. The media came to deal with the cuts. He said there was no way he could discuss cuts.

Your correspondent was able to get the most important component from the coach – the starting line-up. But, along with everybody else, I departed to wait for 8 p.m. and the release. It never came.

Nor did any sort of explanation from anybody in the organization.

The optics were awful.

“Obviously there were things I was unaware of. That's on me. For that I apologize.”

Accepted? By most, I'm sure. But the Eskimos have to go forward with a very real focus on image. This organization simply can't afford to appear dysfunctional any longer.

twitter.com/sunterryjones


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