Len Rhodes, Edmonton Eskimos president, at a news conference announcing the firing of general manager Eric Tillman at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Nov. 3, 2012.
Photograph by: Ed Kaiser, Edmonton Journal
The Edmonton Eskimos president and CEO wouldn’t go into a defined list of grievances that Tillman had accrued over his 26 months as the Eskimos general manager. At a press conference on Saturday afternoon, Rhodes stuck to a generic mantra of his vision of his team’s future in the Canadian Football League and that Tillman didn’t have a place in it.
“Officially this afternoon at approximately 1:30, I met with Eric Tillman and informed him that we were going in a different direction with the Eskimos in the future and that it had a direct impact on his job,” Rhodes said when he sat down in front of Edmonton media. “I informed him that I was relieving him of his duties, effective immediately, with the Edmonton Eskimos.”
Tillman leaves Edmonton defined by the Ricky Ray trade. On Dec. 12, 2011, Tillman dealt Ray to the Toronto Argonauts for quarterback Steven Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw and a first-round pick in the 2012 CFL draft.
The move was highly criticized in the months that followed, as Jyles struggled as a starter. Backup quarterback Kerry Joseph officially took over starting duties on Oct. 5, but at 39 years old, doesn’t provide the long-term plan at the position that Tillman pointed to in the wake of the trade.
Matt Nichols, 25, moved into the backup role when Joseph was named the starter, but has only played two full games this year.
Rhodes said the Ray trade wasn’t the reason for Tillman’s dismissal.
“The Ricky Ray trade got a lot of headlines and continues to do so,” Rhodes said. “That’s not the reason why I relieved Eric today. It’s the overall scheme of things in my specific decision.”
Rhodes was 11 days into his role with the Eskimos when he signed off on the trade.
“I approved the trade, so why would I relieve someone (because of the deal) when I approved the trade to begin with?” he said.
Rhodes said Tillman handled the news with class.
“Eric was a total gentleman. He’s a human being, we’re all human beings and these are never easy decisions,” he said. “It’s a business decision, it’s nothing personal against Eric.
“He handled it extremely well, professional, showed his human side and we shook hands at the end. I really wish him the best as I wish the best for our club. I hope he can go on with his life and his career. He deserves the best.”
Through the generalities of his reasoning for Tillman’s dismissal — which comes eight days before the Eskimos travel to Toronto to face Ray and the Argonauts as the crossover opponent in the East semifinal — Rhodes did point to Tillman’s lack of presence in the community as an issue. When he was physically in Edmonton over the last two seasons, Tillman stayed in a hotel. His family still lives in Regina and Tillman often spent time there and also in Mississippi, where he grew up and his parents still reside.
“If we’re looking at a future GM, my preference would be that the GM lives here in Edmonton,” said Rhodes, who moved to Edmonton last year from Montreal when the Eskimos hired him.
“We’re a community-owned team. When I took the job last December I made a clear decision that I’m going to live here. I would hope that the GM will also live here in the future.”
Rhodes said his objective in hiring a replacement GM was to have someone in place by the end of 2012, though that date isn’t concrete. In the interim, Eskimos head scout Ed Hervey and assistant GM and director of player personnel Paul Jones would handle GM duties.
The Eskimos went to the playoffs in the two full years that Tillman ran the team. They hosted a home playoff date in 2011 and lost to the B.C. Lions in the West Final.
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