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Eskimos head into playoff waters without Tillman

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EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Eskimos are heading into the CFL post-season without general manager Eric Tillman.

The team announced Saturday it had fired Tillman effective immediately.

Eskimos president and CEO Len Rhodes said in a statement that he "did not see Eric as a part of this team moving forward."

Edmonton (7-11) finished its regular season Friday with a third straight loss, 30-27 to the Calgary Stampeders. The Eskimos qualified for the post-season on a cross-over berth and will face the Toronto Argonauts in East Division semifinal Nov. 11 at Rogers Centre.

The Eskimos' decision to part way with Tillman wasn't surprising as there had been much speculation of friction between the 55-year-old Tillman and other members of Edmonton's front office. Also, Tillman hadn't moved his family to Alberta from Regina since joining the Esks, which raised questions about his commitment to the CFL club.

But the timing of this move is stunning, considering the Eskimos will have to prepare for their playoff game against Toronto while dealing with a major distraction. It will mark Edmonton's third meeting of the season against former starter Ricky Ray.

Edmonton acquired quarterback Steven Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw and the second pick of the 2012 CFL draft last December for Ray, who led the Alberta club to two Grey Cup titles over his nine seasons there. Tillman, a native of Jackson, Miss., came under a lot of fire for the move of Ray, who not only was one of the most prolific passers in franchise history but also a huge fan favourite.

Ray guided Edmonton to an 11-7 record last year and a tie for first in the West Division with B.C. and Calgary. The Eskimos dispatched the Stampeders 33-19 in the opening playoff round before losing to the eventual Grey Cup-champion Lions 40-23 in the conference final.

The Eskimos were 2-0 against Ray and the Argos this season, but Toronto (9-9) not only posted a better record than Edmonton but Ray threw for 4,059 yards this year, the seventh time in his CFL career he has surpassed the 4,000-yard passing plateau. Ray missed three regular-season games with a knee injury but in his two starts since returning has thrown for eight TDs and given up just one interception.

Ray didn't dress for Toronto's regular-season finale, a 43-40 home win over Hamilton on Thursday night, which ironically clinched the Eskimos a playoff berth.

Tillman is a veteran CFL executive, having served as GM previously with B.C. ('93-'94), Toronto (1997, '99), Ottawa (2002-'04) and Saskatchewan (2006-'10). His teams have made four Grey Cup appearances, winning three times (1994, '97 and '07).

Tillman began his CFL career in 1982 as the player-personnel director of the Montreal Concordes before serving as the executive director of the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., from 1984 to 1993.

There was much speculation this season that Tillman could be returning to Toronto despite present Argos GM Jim Barker still having one year remaining on his deal. Tillman's name has also been mentioned as a potential GM of the new Ottawa expansion franchise.

Edmonton has struggled offensively this season, using three quarterbacks -- veterans Jyles and Kerry Joseph and youngster Matt Nichols. The Eskimos entered the final week of the regular season last overall in offensive yards (333 per game) and second-last in scoring (23.2 yards per game). Earlier this season, head coach Kavis Reed took over the offensive co-ordinator's duties from Marcus Crandell, who was named quarterback coach.

Tillman was hired as Eskimos GM on Sept. 14, 2010, taking over a team that had a league-worst 2-8 record. Edmonton finished the season winning five of its eight remaining games but ended up just two points out of the final West Division playoff spot.

Tillman was charged with sexual assault Jan. 27, 2009 in an incident involving a 16-year-old girl in Regina. Tillman pleaded guilty to the charge Jan. 4, 2010 and was granted an absolute discharge the following day. As a result, he received no criminal record but Tillman resigned as Riders GM on Jan. 8, 2010.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 4, 2012 B7

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