The Edmonton Eskimos are moving on.
Saturday’s surprising firing of general manager Eric Tillman sent shockwaves through an organization that has endured turmoil throughout much of the season, but by Monday the players and coaching staff were getting on with preparation for the upcoming CFL eastern semi-final.
Head coach Kavis Reed said while Tillman’s firing is tough on a personal level, he’s focusing his attention on this week’s practices in advance of playing the Toronto Argonauts on Sunday.
“Eric and I have a history of working together so the first thing was looking at it from the more human side of it versus the business side,” Reed said. “The couple of hours we spent together [Saturday] chatting was not about football, but more about life itself.
“This is a business, you know that, but I will never divorce the human element. Obviously Eric gave me an opportunity, championed my cause to be a head coach in this league, I’ve worked with him as an assistant coach, we’ve always worked well together. From the human aspect it’s been taxing.”
Receiver Marcus Henry said the firing “was a surprise to most of us, but we don’t know much about it. That’s about all we can say.”
Since club president and CEO Len Rhodes announced Tillman’s dismissal and said it was for “no specific reason,” there has been speculation about the club’s motives.
Rumoured reasons include conflicts between Tillman and the football operations staff, negative fallout of the Ricky Ray trade to Toronto, Tillman’s refusal to move to Edmonton, and the constant turnover in players, including other Tillman trades that didn’t work out this season.
“I don’t have much to say because I don’t know what’s going on,” said running back Hugh Charles who came to the Eskimos from Regina shortly after Tillman, a former Saskatchewan GM, joined the Eskimos. “It’s the business side. We don’t look much into it because we’re here to play the game.
“I’m sure everybody has something to say about it but I don’t.”
Reed said he spoke with the team captains on the weekend to make certain they communicated to the players that “it’s not Chicken Little, the sky’s not falling.
“We all had a good working relationship with Eric,” he said. “Obviously there are going to be some emotional effects … but we have to focus on playing Toronto. We’ve gone through a lot this year, be it injuries, be it changes in terms of personal, but that locker-room, in terms of character, was able to remain intact for the most part.”
The timing was also a surprise, coming one week ahead of the playoffs, but again the players insist it will not be a distraction.
“No, not really,” Henry said. “There’s always some kind of distractions, but the good teams overlook those distractions and play well, that’s what we’re going to do.”
There’s already a number of potential distractions with the Eskimos meeting Ray, their former quarterback, and Eskimo running back Cory Boyd facing the team that suddenly cut him early in the season when he was the league’s leading rusher.
And there’s the question of Reed’s future. He was given his first head-coaching job by Tillman and while he was criticized during the season for his handling of the quarterbacks and running backs, he’s being mentioned as a possible candidate for the vacant GM job.
That’s something he wasn’t prepared to talk much about on Monday.
“No, the contemplation is about making sure this team is ready to play a very tough Toronto team,” he replied when asked if he was interested in the GM’s job. “If I or anyone in this organization loses sight of that our playoff exit will be quick. I want to be a very good head coach this week against the Toronto Argonauts. It is very important that my focus, and this team’s focus is on Toronto.”