A football fan has to commend Richie Hall.
Not for his win-loss record as the Edmonton Eskimos head coach, but for the way he handled himself during what was arguably the most tumultuous season in the rich history of the franchise.
After being fired on Friday, Hall could easily have taken the fast road out of town, but instead he stood in front of the media and took his final questions as a member of the Eskimos organization with class.
I’m a firm believer that any coach coming into an organization needs to hire his own staff, and under former Eskimos general manager Danny Maciocia, he wasn’t given that opportunity when he took over from Maciocia as coach at the start of the 2009 season.
He never got an opportunity to bring in his own staff this year either.
Expectations were high this year for the Eskimos and the team got off to a putrid start that eventually led to Maciocia’s dismissal and the firing of one position coach, and the resignation of another.
Hall could have easily vacated his coaches chair in his office, in the nicely renovated Eskimo locker room at that same time — but he stuck with it.
When the Eskimos made the controversial hiring of GM Eric Tillman, Hall could have easily backed away. Twice he could have been hired as a head coach when both he and Tillman were together in Saskatchewan.
Both times he was passed over. Once for Kent Austin; the second time Ken Miller got the job.
But he didn’t.
Knowing that he probably wasn’t Tillman’s choice to lead the Eskimos in the future, he rallied the team together and almost made an improbable run to the CFL playoffs, something that looked like a pipe dream through the majority of the season.
I am in no way saying that after the kind of season the Esks had, that Hall should still be the head coach of this football team. His record speaks for itself, but he stuck around and tried to clean up the mess left by Maciocia’s garbage bag full of bad decisions as a general manager.
For that you have to give Hall some credit.
Hall’s a good coach, but he’s got the reputation of being too nice of a guy. The old adage ‘nice guys finish last’ rang true when it comes to Hall and the Eskimos.
You have to credit Tillman in this situation as well.
Everywhere he’s been in the CFL he’s made his mark, and when he came into Commonwealth Stadium he vowed for change, but opted to make small subtle changes.
He could have cleaned house immediately, but he took the time to evaluate this 7-11 team that many predicted to be in the Grey Cup game defending their home-field turf in the next 11 days.
With the Eskimos having now cleaned out their lockers, he’ll begin to really put his stamp on this franchise.
He may make some very tough decisions that some Eskimos fans may or may not agree with, but you can’t argue with his track record of winning.
Letting go one of the nicest guys in the CFL coaching fraternity was his first off-season decision. There will certainly be a lot more to come.
Jason Hills is an Edmonton-based freelance writer who appears in the Advocate every second Wednesday