EDMONTON - It doesn’t take a 16-year CFL veteran to dissect what went on within the Edmonton Eskimos organization during Eric Tillman’s reign as general manager that led to his dismissal last weekend.
But Toronto Argonauts punter Noel Prefontaine’s viewpoint provides some insight into things finally coming to a head in the Eskimos front office that a lot of players have been unwilling to share so far.
“That whole situation, was I surprised? No,” said Prefontaine, who served as Edmonton’s kicker/punter from 2008 until midway through 2010, when Tillman arrived just in time to deal him back to Toronto, where he spent the first 10 years of his CFL career. “I think Tillman’s history has shown that he’s never in one place for too long.”
Tillman traded Prefontaine to the Argonauts in return for non-import defensive tackle Etienne Legare — who has spent most of this season on the injured list — and the rights to linebacker Damaso Munoz, who turned into a full-fledged starter the past two seasons.
“And, personally, through my particular dealings with the guy, our relationship is what it is,” Prefontaine said of his former GM. “Having said that, from understanding who he is and what we had as a relationship, it doesn’t surprise me.”
While that particular trade has worked out well for both teams, part of Tillman’s motivating factor for pulling the trigger was to avoid a veteran pay increase that Prefontaine was due at the time.
In fact, the bottom dollar was always Tillman’s top priority — to a fault, at times. And not just during his time in Edmonton, either.
“If I feel any animosity towards Eric, it had nothing to do with him sending me back here or anything like that,” Prefontaine said. “I think the bottom line is when I look at him do things to certain players that I’ve seen him do.
“Example: Ricky (Ray). Example: Kerry (Joseph) in Saskatchewan. These are decisions that are being made by a man that I don’t think he really takes into consideration the magnitude that these players have with their respective teams.”
Case in point, the trade that sent Ray to Toronto last December — that not only shocked the league and football fans across the country — also spelled the beginning of the end for Tillman in Edmonton.
“In my opinion, I look at a guy like Ricky and there’s no way that Ricky should have ever left Edmonton,” said Prefontaine, putting on record the thought that many CFL players share but have been unwilling to say publicly. “And I’m sure a lot of the fans in Edmonton feel the same way I do.
“It’s unfortunate, but it is the nature of our business. We have to be prepared to move on whenever we’re told to and everything happens for a reason, they say.”
Sunday’s East Division semifinal between Ray and his former Eskimos is no exception.
“Obviously, we’re extremely happy to have Ricky here and I’m excited,” said Prefontaine, whose Argos remain the only CFL team to not beat the Eskimos this season. “Ultimately, us dropping the two games against Edmonton during the year, I’m sure that Tillman was feeling pretty happy or satisfied with himself.
“Then to come full circle and be playing against Edmonton for a chance to move on in this Grey Cup journey, I don’t think you could have written a better story.”
Especially with this particular cast of characters.
“When the trade happened, I was extremely excited,” Prefontaine said. “Ricky’s a great teammate and he’s a great quarterback.
“So I think I should be thanking Eric.”