MacKinnon: Eskimos’ problems won’t be solved by changing a coach or a player
Organization has been disfunctional since its last Grey Cup victory in 2005
The Edmonton Eskimos defence can’t catch Montreal Alouettes wide receiver Duron Carter during Saturday’s CFL game at Commonwealth Stadium.
Photograph by: Ed Kaiser, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - The events of the last week in Edmonton in this sorry CFL season have graphically illustrated that the once-great 3-11 Eskimos franchise still can throw a mighty swish annual banquet.
It’s the winning at football part that has become so elusive, has been since the Eskimos won their 13th and most recent Grey Cup back in 2005.
The causes of this chronic mediocrity are myriad and profound. So, no doubt, are the remedies.
There is a point of view abroad in the marketplace that head coach Kavis Reed should be dismissed once this dreadful season has reached its conclusion. Which, by the way, could well wind up at 3-15, for those still bothering to keep score at home.
Reed’s lack of job security has been an open secret much of this season, despite the contract extension he signed. It was no secret at all after general manager Ed Hervey’s post-Labour Day eruption, when he put Reed and his entire coaching staff “on notice.”
That wasn’t the pink slip, but it absolutely was notice the pink slip probably was on its way, not just for Reed, but for most of his coaching staff.
The tangible results from Hervey’s public calling out of the coaches and their game planning, in general, and offensive lineman Simeon Rottier, in particular, have been a pair of victories over the dysfunctional Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a tough loss to the Calgary Stampeders and thumpings by the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes.
The Eskimos also were taken to task for violating the collective bargaining agreement with the CFL Players’ Association by publicly shaming Rottier and were reprimanded by the league.
A circus-like chaos has attended much of the Eskimos’ football operations for far too long. That was supposed to change this season. As the losses have piled up, it has not.
From CEO Len Rhodes sacking former GM Eric Tillman in November 2012 “for no specific reason,” to a secret training camp in Florida during the off-season, to a $10,000 tampering fine for the eyeblink-quick signing of free-agent rush end Odell Willis, to Hervey’s Labour Day eruption, to the whole Mike Reilly “will-he-or-won’t-he-play” concussion fiasco last week, the Eskimos demonstrate organizational clumsiness as if it were encoded in an office training manual.
Make no mistake, putting the recently concussed Reilly, the franchise quarterback, potentially at risk by playing him in a meaningless game is on Hervey as much as it’s on Reed.
The fashion in which major decisions are made in this community-owned franchise makes you wonder about the reflexes of a team overseen at arm’s length by a volunteer board of directors, makes you question the instincts of leaders who are not steeped in running a successful football franchise.
The Eskimos were fortunate, in the extreme, to be led for so many years by Hugh Campbell, a former player and coach who also was an astute businessman.
But the succession from Campbell to Rick LeLacheur, as CEO and president, and Danny Maciocia, as head coach and GM, went sideways as LeLacheur gave Maciocia too much authority too soon, probably gave him too much time to rebuild a team that “retired,” in effect, after 2005.
So desperate were LeLacheur and then-board chair Doug Goss to reverse the Eskimos’ fortunes, they brought in the baggage-laden Tillman, whose tenure is noteworthy for the club’s appearance in the West Division final in 2011, for a severely toxic atmosphere in the club’s football operations department, and for the lopsided trade of Ricky Ray, the franchise QB for a decade.
By the time the full extent of the subsequent damage became clear, LeLacheur had retired and Goss had moved on. So it fell to Rhodes, a rookie CEO, to dismiss Tillman. He did it clumsily, but he did it.
Since Campbell left in 2006, the Eskimos have had three head coaches. The door to the assistants’ quarters, particularly the offensive and defensive co-ordinators, has been a turnstile. That turnstile would spin some more were Reed to be dismissed.
From 2006 onward, the Eskimos have made the playoffs four times in the user-friendly CFL, made the East and West finals once apiece. They also have compiled a 59-80-1 regular-season record, with four games left this season, and are 2-4 in the playoffs.
Are the Eskimos under first-year GM Hervey on the pathway back to on-field excellence? Hervey did acquire Reilly, a key piece for the future. But by his own words and actions from training camp on out, he has not surrounded his quarterback with sufficient protection on the offensive line. Suffice to say, his record, so far, is similarly mixed.
Board chair Bruce Bentley told the Hall of Fame gala dinner crowd on Thursday night that the Eskimos are in better shape now than they were in October 2012. But comparing the present to the nadir of the Tillman administration is setting the bar mighty low.
Now, rumours of the Eskimos possibly replacing Reed with former Eskimos defensive co-ordinator Rick Campbell are circulating. Campbell, currently the defensive co-ordinator for the Calgary Stampeders, is a good man and a capable coach, one with aspirations to be a head guy.
If Rick Campbell were to return — a big if — he would do so with the same sort of baggage he carried, through no fault of his own, when he was with the Eskimos before, that he was aided by his dad’s influence.
Hugh Campbell may well have helped Hervey in his successful bid to become GM. Hervey has consulted with the elder Campbell, on occasion, over the past year.
On a team that seems blind to dicey optics, tone-deaf to concerns as serious as the health of its franchise quarterback, a potential Campbell hire could produce more clumsiness.
The Eskimos’ problems go far above and beyond a coaching change or some roster moves.
Before they scapegoat a coach or a GM or whomever, they should do a complete organizational audit. The Eskimo Way isn’t working; it has to change, top to bottom.
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