Eskimos trying to out-fumble Blue Bombers?
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
|Eric Tillman watches players run drills at Eskimos training camp in Edmonton, Alta., June 4, 2012. Tillman was fired as general manager of the club Nov. 3, 2012, following the end of the regular season. (IAN KUCERAK/QMI Agency file photo)
WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers may still hold the title as most dysfunctional organization in the CFL, but they're getting a run for their money.
Because what's happening in Edmonton right now makes the front-office foibles here seem tame by comparison.
The Eskimos, heading to the playoffs only because of the ineptitude of the East Division, fired their GM on the weekend, a week before they play Toronto in the East semifinal.
What did Eric Tillman do to get the boot before a playoff game?
Rarely show up at the office, for one thing (are you listening, Joe Mack?).
Incredibly, Tillman still did much of his work from his home in Regina, reportedly because his employees, most notably head coach Kavis Reed, couldn't stand his presence in Edmonton.
Even more incredibly, reports suggest Tillman has his eyes on the GM job in Toronto, where he just so happened to trade quarterback Ricky Ray last off-season.
There are also people wondering why he's allowed so many Eskimos starters to play out their option years, making them potentially available on the free agent market, come February.
It's a conspiracy theorist's paradise, and makes the Bombers front office look like the Partridge Family.
We'll see a good test of Mack's leadership this off-season, on a couple of fronts.
First, the Bombers boss has been told to find an assistant GM with the idea of grooming him to be his successor.
I'm told the assistant should be good at doing things Mack isn't good at, or doesn't care to do: being visible in the community and taking care of the day-to-day operations of the team, i.e. contract negotiations, travel arrangements, etc.
It takes a confident man to hire someone who might some day take his job.
Two of the last three Bomber head coaches, Doug Berry and Paul LaPolice, hired defensive co-ordinators who were qualified to be head coaches, and we saw how that worked out for Coach LaPo this season.
Mack probably doesn't need to worry about finding someone smarter than he is. Just ask him.
That's one thing he has in common with Tillman.
LOSING A BUCK
Mack should also come to grips with the fact he needs a new No. 1 quarterback.
Yes, I lobbied for the signing of Buck Pierce three years ago. But it hasn't worked, a 20-34 regular season record testament to that.
Pierce hinted on the weekend he didn't get the protection he needs to stay healthy, which may be true.
But it ignores the fact he's been injured on routine plays that had nothing to do with a lack of protection.
Maybe the best argument for releasing Pierce, or at least demoting him to a support role: it makes this a more attractive place for a free agent quarterback looking for a legit shot to be a starter.
The CFL's public image will take a pounding if Tillman does, indeed, end up running the Argos.
But there's already a huge black mark on the Ontario part of the league map: Hamilton's stadium fiasco.
How can the Tiger-Cats still not know where they're going to be playing home games in 2013?
We saw what happened when the Bombers had to start the season with four on the road. The Ticats will play all 18 away from Ivor Wynne next year, as it's being torn down.
This isn't a competitive disadvantage, it's a competitive disaster.
That the league has allowed this to happen is as mindboggling as anything I've seen in years.
BEGINNING OF THE END?
I still say we'll have some kind of NHL season, and this week could be the first step down that road.
The two sides resume bargaining in New York, Tuesday.
"I'm not making predictions," Winnipeg Jets player rep Ron Hainsey told me, Monday. "But I will say that meeting is better than not meeting."
If you're a hockey fan, you'll grab onto that like it's the last crumb at the soup kitchen.