O’Leary: REDBLACKS deserve kudos for Sunderland’s transition to GM

CFL.ca's Senior Writer Chris O'Leary says that the Ottawa REDBLACKS willingness to assist Brock Sunderland in growing his career is the 'most Canadian thing ever'.

In cracking the one-month mark of this still very new and (I think) very cool job, there’s one lesson I’ve learned working for the Canadian Football League that tops everything else.

The days that look like a clear-cut thing: A routine Friday at the end of a long week; a structured Monday that’s full of meetings; a visit to a sponsor’s event where the assignment seems like a simple journey from A to B; those clear-cut things, the best laid plans, seem to find a way to tailspin off course, overtaken by bigger, league or franchise-altering moves, like a Mariokart banana peel popping up in your calendar app.

In short, news breaks quickly around here.

My focus has jumped from each big move as it’s happened lately, but I’ve been especially fixated on Monday’s development in a different way.

The news of the Eskimos hiring Brock Sunderland as their GM had broken on Sunday, so the team making it official on Monday morning didn’t carry any shock value. Seeing the news confirmed by the team on Twitter on Monday, reading the release on the Esks site and seeing Sunderland’s resume recited really hammered it home, though.

The REDBLACKS allowed this to happen. Think about that for a minute. Think about the timeframe, the suddenness of Ed Hervey’s departure and the timing now of Sunderland’s departure from Ottawa. These teams played for the Grey Cup in 2015. They met in the East Final in 2016. In Ottawa’s three short seasons, these teams have taken turns standing in each other’s pursuit of a Grey Cup.

Can you imagine the Cleveland Cavaliers suddenly firing LeBron James, err, I mean David Griffin, as their GM late in the summer, turning to the Golden State Warriors and not only asking but actually being given permission to interview and hire their assistant GM to fill those expensive shoes?\


Would New England help out the Seattle Seahawks in the same situation? The Penguins and the Sharks? The Cubs and the Indians? “Well, this is a little uncomfortable but we had to make a change and we’d just love it if we could talk to your assistant GM.”

There’s shirt-off-your-back nice, I’m-gonna-loan-you-some-money nice and then there’s what we saw happen with the REDBLACKS and the Esks.

“Oh, you want to talk with one of the gatekeepers of the secrets of this nearly perfect castle we’ve built from the ground up? Sure. Best of luck to both of you.”

When I see some of the league’s many quirks, I like calling them The Most CFL Thing Ever. This lands somewhere on that list for me, but it goes a step further.

In relieving their GM a month before the Canadian Draft, some wondered if the Eskimos had put themselves at a competitive disadvantage. That of course gives the other eight teams in the league a competitive advantage. In letting Sunderland take advantage of a great opportunity — how often does a GM get to take the chair of a very stable, competitive team? — the REDBLACKS have now given up some ground. They’ve let a valuable piece of their organization go, with what’s safe to assume is a detailed knowledge of their draft needs and intentions and an equally deep knowledge of the entire roster.

It might seem overly nice, maybe dangerous, or even a little reckless for the REDBLACKS to green light this move, but if you think about it there’s something else there as well. Ottawa has built a great organization in a very short amount of time. In the same way they’ll look to Trevor Harris to carry the torch that Henry Burris so perfectly marched into the sunset last year, they’ll be confident that they’ll carry on without Sunderland. Maybe they’ll promote from within and continue on. Maybe Sunderland will click with coach Jason Maas after a year apart and the Eskimos will march through another season. Ottawa and Edmonton are linked now more than ever, more than by season-ending defeats could have ever done.

The REDBLACKS showed an unthinkable kindness to a competitor and at the same time showed a strong, quiet confidence in what themselves. That’s more than The Most CFL Thing Ever.

It’s a strong candidate for The Most Canadian Thing Ever.

Related Articles