November 12, 2010
The long-rumoured firing of Edmonton Eskimos' head coach Richie Hall (pictured, right) was made official this morning at a news conference. General manager Eric Tillman attributed the move to a difference in philosophies rather than any lack of talent on Hall's part:
"After meeting with Richie this week, I think unfortunately there was a mutual realization we had different philosophies regarding how to best build a highly successful franchise in Edmonton," Tillman said in a statement.
"There are multiple ways, of course, to win championships. But to achieve the ultimate goal, it's imperative for those in leadership positions to share the same mindset and approach."
As Tillman listed mindset as a key factor in his decision to get rid of Hall, it's important to keep that in mind when looking at potential candidates to replace him. Here's a breakdown of some of the prominent figures that might be considered:
Kavis Reed: Reed, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' defensive coordinator and assistant head coach, appears to be the clubhouse favourite at this point. Both Dave Naylor and Matt Sekeres are listing him as the leading candidate. Reed was an all-star defensive back for the Eskimos in the 1990s, and he also has prominent connections to Tillman, working with him in both Ottawa and Saskatchewan. He's also worked in Toronto and Hamilton and has experience as everything from a defensive coordinator to a special-teams coordinator to a positions coach for running backs and defensive backs. As the Riders' special-teams coach, some blamed him for their 13th-man loss in last year's Grey Cup, but others gave him credit for facing the music there. His Winnipeg defence wasn't particularly great this year, allowing 485 points (third-worst in the CFL), but his wide variety of experience, long history with Tillman and connection to Edmonton would seem to make him a natural candidate.
Dave Dickenson: Dickenson is also an intriguing option. The former B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders quarterback has done very well in his transition to the sidelines so far. He's only in his second year of coachingput up an incredible 626 points this year. That's 105 points ahead of Montreal, the only other team to even crack 500. According to their personnel listings, the Stampeders don't have an official offensive coordinator, but Dickenson appears to have been basically filling that role and has done one heck of a job. Going with someone with his limited coaching experience would be a gamble, but he seems likely to get a CFL head-coaching job sooner rather than later. Keep in mind that Tillman's made that exact gamble before, hiring former star quarterback Kent Austin as Saskatchewan's head coach before the 2007 season after only a few years of coaching experience, and that paid off immediately in a Grey Cup for the Riders.
Kent Austin: Why settle for a copy when you can target the original? It's unclear if Austin (pictured, right) would want to return to the CFL these days, as he left for an offensive coordinator slot at Ole Miss and has since earned a NCAA head coaching gig at Cornell. The Big Red are only 2-6 this season, but they went 2-8 last year under Jim Knowles, so this could still be an improvement. Austin's in his first year, so he'll probably be given more time to turn the team around, and it's quite likely he's probably making more money than he would as a CFL head coach (and there are also more opportunities to move up to higher-profile gigs within the NCAA if he finds success at Cornell than there would be if he returned to Canada). Still, he does have the connection to Tillman and a spectacular record of success in the CFL, so he can't be ruled out.
George Cortez: Cortez is a bit similar to Austin, in that he found success in the CFL as the Stampeders' offensive coordinator before heading south. He's currently the quarterbacks coach of the NFL's Buffalo Bills, so it's unclear if he'd even be interested in considering a return to Canada. However, the Bills are 0-8, so there's always the chance of a coaching purge. They were expected to be awful this year, so Chan Gailey and company may have more time than most coaches would in this situation, but an assistant or two is often thrown under the bus to appease the masses. It doesn't seem too likely that would be Cortez, as their quarterbacking situation's shown dramatic improvement since the decision to cut Trent Edwards and start Ryan Fitzpatrick, but you never know in the NFL. Cortez is also older than many NFL assistants and doesn't have a ton of four-down football experience, so he might not get that many looks from other American teams if he was cut loose. He also does have ties to Tillman, and he can't be ruled out.
Scott Milanovich: Milanovich is another former quarterback who's become a very succesful CFL assistant. He's currently the assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with Montreal, and has worked with Marc Trestman to develop one of the CFL's most consistently potent passing attacks. He might not want to leave Monteal either, considering the rumours that Trestman may be heading south, but he'd certainly be worth a look.
Chip Garber: Garber doesn't have a ton of CFL experience, but he has spent plenty of time at the NCAA and NFL levels, and he put together the league's best defence in Toronto this year. The Argonauts allowed a league-low 442 points, which was a huge part of how they finished 9-9 despite only scoring 373 points of their own. Head coach Jim Barker and special-teams coordinator Mike O'Shea have received much of the publicity, but Garber's contributions were key to the Argonauts' success as well, and he should get at least some consideration for a potential head coaching job. He's also worked with receivers and special teams over the years, so he has a wide variety of experience.
Blake Nill: CFL teams don't often promote guys from the CIS ranks, so this is quite a long shot. The exception appears to be the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who hired McMaster coach Greg Marshall (no, not the one who currently works for them) back in 2004 with mixed results; a great first season followed by two disappointing ones. More recently, they appointed another former CIS head coach in Marcel Bellefeuille with more success, but he had spent several years in the CFL before. Nill hasn't done that, but he's had a tremendously successful CIS career with Saint Mary's and the University of Calgary, winning two Vanier Cups and appearing in last year's championship game. The University of Calgary's his alma mater, so he wouldn't necessarily leave even if offered the job, but he might be the most intriguing CIS candidate out there.
Reed and Dickenson are probably the most likely candidates, but you can bet that both Austin and Cortez would receive strong consideration if they expressed any interest in a return north of the border. Milanovich. Garber and Nill are longer shots, and there are certainly plenty of other options out there; Tillman's shown a tendency to go off-the-board before, as he did with the 2007 hire of Austin. It's going to be an interesting coaching search to watch.