May 17, 2011
Edmonton Eskimos' general manager Eric Tillman really should endorse a line of housecleaning products. In most of his previous CFL jobs, he's made a point of turning over players quickly and bringing in veterans he's worked with before, and that's been the case in Edmonton as well. The first part of that philosophy continued Monday with the release of import defensive end Kenny Pettway and import defensive back Lawrence Gordon, leaving the Eskimos with just six returning starters on defence. Moreover, as The Edmonton Journal's Mario Annicchiarico writes, even those returning players may not all make it through training camp. That doesn't particularly concern new head coach Kavis Reed, though.
"Numbers-wise, we're right in the middle of the number of turnovers around the league," he said. "And for us, we're lucky to have a new system, new coaching staff, bringing guys in who really fit the scheme, A, and B, have a clean slate.
"We're not trying to erase old habits or reprogram them into schemes and conditions they've had. They have a clean slate and we can indoctrinate them faster into the system we want to employ this year."
Reed made it clear that changes were required after a 7-11 season left the Eskimos out of the playoffs.
"The biggest part is we have to be mindful that there are a number of very good coaches not here any more because of last year's record. When we came in as a staff, the first thing that we said was, ‘We're no smarter than they are,' " said Reed.
"If those very good coaches weren't able to extract more wins out of these guys, then we have to be very prudent in our decision-making and see whether or not guys fit into the things we want to accomplish this year, schematically, and also in terms of the culture we want to establish."
"It is incumbent upon us to do our homework on the roster, to make every change we feel necessary to improve this franchise."
From one standpoint, Reed is correct. Change is common in the CFL offseason, and the Eskimos' moves since the Grey Cup haven't been the most numerous in the league. That doesn't take into account that the team's housecleaning started much sooner, though, long before Reed was hired in December. When Tillman (pictured above at his introductory press conference in September) took over midway through the 2010 campaign, the personnel changes began almost immediately. If you compare Edmonton's pre-September 2010 roster to their current one, there's very little continuity.
Of course, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, as many of those changes worked out pretty well. One of Tillman's most notable moves came in just his second day on the job with the signing of Louisiana Tech running back Daniel Porter, who went on to deliver some huge performances for Edmonton down the stretch, picking up 603 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 86 carries, but there were many other personnel shuffles that also made an impact. Moreover, after the Eskimos' awful start saw arguably the lowest moment in team history, there was certainly plenty of incentive to make some changes. The new management and dramatic roster overhaul appeared to spark the team into a solid stretch run, even if it wasn't quite good enough to overcome the early damage to their season; they wound up missing the playoffs in the final week after a loss to Saskatchewan and a B.C. win in Hamilton. Comparing the Eskimos' performances before and after Tillman's sweeping roster overhaul began, it would be hard to argue that his changes weren't required. Many of them followed the principle of mutatis mutandis.
However, unlike another Latin phrase, change for change's sake isn't always a positive. Football is a team game, and a lot of success depends not just on players' individual skill levels, but also on their ability to work with their teammates and execute their roles in a given scheme. It's also worth noting that the CFL in particular tends to favour experienced players over raw athletic prospects, so continuity and chemistry may be more important in this league than in many others. That's not to say that the Eskimos can't develop those qualities with their new roster, or even that their continued roster housecleaning definitely isn't the best idea. It's just worth pointing out that change has its drawbacks as well as its advantages, and that there has to be a point where you stop making wholesale changes and start focusing on developing a coherent squad. Tillman certainly achieved that during his tenure in Regina, where he made plenty of initial roster moves and then built a largely-continuous team that just went to two straight Grey Cup games. We'll see if he's able to repeat that success in Edmonton.