MacKinnon: Who should be next general manager of the Edmonton Eskimos?
Head scout Hervey brings keen football mind, instant credibility
So, who should be the next football leader of the troubled “Once-an-Eskimo-Always-an-Eskimo” franchise, formerly thought to be the Canadian FL flagship?
It’s a critical question after the mercifully truncated, scorched-earth tenure of general manager Eric Tillman, which followed on the heels of the Danny Maciocia interregnum. Maciocia’s time at the helm opened with the 2005 Grey Cup championship and swiftly deteriorated from there.
History will look kindly on the 20-year era of Hugh Campbell (1986-2006), a stretch that also includes a brief period when Tom Higgins was an effective GM, but reporting to Campbell.
The line of succession since Campbell retired is problematic, to be polite.
Rick LeLacheur, who replaced Campbell as Eskimos CEO and president, can be proud of his many significant accomplishments in that role, but handing Maciocia the dual authority of head coach and GM was wrong-headed and ended badly.
LeLacheur and former Eskimos board chair Doug Goss, against the strong counsel of some, brought in Tillman to clean up the mess in Sept. 2010. That hire proved to be a poison pill for the Eskimos, certainly not a cure-all.
Yes, Tillman deepened the talent pool at most positions on the Eskimos roster and, significantly, he hired head coach Kavis Reed. Though still learning, Reed has been a revelation, both as a head coach and a tireless community ambassador.
But in the wake of Tillman’s firing by CEO and president Len Rhodes on Saturday, the club is razor-thin at quarterbacks for the future and must address a toxic work environment.
Tillman’s mere departure already has begun the healing process among alienated Eskimos football operations staff.
Rhodes, a neophyte in pro football, whose first season with the club has been a bumpy learning curve, cannot afford another organizational blunder in hiring the next GM.
At his news conference on Saturday, Rhodes indicated Reed, director of player personnel Paul Jones and head scout Ed Hervey all would be credible candidates for the GM position, which he hopes to fill by the end of December.
Reed, said Rhodes, would merit “high consideration” for the position, given his many well-documented attributes.
But after the failed experiment of having Maciocia function as both head coach and GM, organizational warning bells should be clanging at the prospect of repeating that exercise.
Reed, a former Eskimos player and a longtime assistant coach, has just two years experience as a head coach. Also, there is no sense that Reed yearns to run the whole show, as Wally Buono did for years in Calgary and, more recently, with the B.C. Lions.
As for Jones, Rhodes’ preference for installing a GM who is a full-time resident of Edmonton, unlike Tillman, who commuted from Regina, could preclude the promotion of the U.S. college bird dog, who is based in Grand Bay, Ala., an effective watching post for identifying American talent, his singular strength.
Among credible internal candidates, that leaves Hervey, the former all star wide receiver who helped the Eskimos win two Grey Cups in his eight years as an Eskimos player and leader. Since his March 2007 retirement, Hervey has worked as an Eskimos scout, the last four years as head scout.
It was Maciocia who recognized Hervey’s sharp football mind, offered him a post-retirement scouting job and began mentoring him to be a football executive.
Hervey proved to be a quick study and his job description quickly expanded to include things like setting up tryout camps on the West Coast, getting a handle on the league’s salary management system, spearheading preparations for the Canadian college draft, building a network of contacts among NFL clubs and U.S. colleges, on and on.
At training camp, when negotiations with rookie receiver Shamawd Chambers were stalled, Hervey took command of the file and swiftly signed the gifted Canadian to a CFL contract.
A former winner of the club’s David Boone Memorial Award for outstanding work in the community, Hervey spends much of his time in Edmonton, a city he loves and knows well.
Like Reed, Hervey is a natural leader, charismatic, comfortable interacting with a wide variety of people, something most executives are expected to do.
As a player, Hervey exemplified the Eskimos’ relentless commitment to excellence. It’s a message he continues to convey eloquently and with passion, as he did as part of an alumni “Hot Stove” panel at the club’s recent annual dinner.
In CFL circles, and across the football community here and elsewhere, Hervey has ample street cred.
Installing him as GM would bring an element of risk with it, just as giving Reed a chance to be a head coach involved a leap of faith. If Hervey needs guidance, from time to time, Hugh Campbell, his boss for eight years, is only a phone call away.
External candidates may well surface with power-packed resumes. Rhodes will no doubt let the hiring process play out, and he absolutely should.
But for reasons of organizational continuity, a strong connection to championships past, replanting the desired corporate culture and instant leaguewide credibility, it’s hard to imagine the Eskimos finding a better all-around GM candidate than Hervey.
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