Jason Maas

For weeks, offensive co-ordinator Jason Maas has been rumoured as the favourite for the Edmonton Eskimo’s Head Coach vacancy. When the Chris Jones to Saskatchewan speculation began during Grey Cup week, reports immediately surfaced that if Jones left, Edmonton GM Ed Hervey would strongly considering bringing in Maas to replace him.

When Jones did indeed leave, the Eskimos asked the Redblacks for permission to interview him for the Head Coach gig. This is where things began to get tricky. Depending on which report is correct, the Redblacks told the Eskimos from the outset that they were free to interview Maas, but that if they chose to hire him they’d be seeking compensation.

Other reports suggest that the Redblacks granted permission to interview and then only when it became apparent that Maas would indeed be offered the Head Coach position, suddenly asked for compensation.

But on the other hand…

A third report seems to suggest that the Redblacks gave permission but then demanded compensation when they learned that Maas was planning on bringing the entire offensive staff with him, including Offensive Line coach Bryan Chiu, Receivers Coach Travis Moore and Running Backs coach Jordan Maksymic. The irony here is that the Eskimos just allowed Grey Cup winning HC Chris Jones to bolt to Saskatchewan with his entire staff without asking for, or receiving, any kind of compensation.

It all makes for very confusing times for R-Nation and the CFL as a whole. The main problem is that poaching coaches under contract from other teams is an age old tradition in the CFL. For decades there’s been an unwritten gentleman’s agreement that if someone is interested in one of your coaches and wants to offer them a position that is a promotion from their current role, for example, WR coach to OC, OC to HC or HC to GM, that you don’t block them from advancing their career. Not every team abides by this (I’m looking at you Hamilton), but in general, teams don’t often stand in the way of a promotion.

When it comes to the issue of compensation for losing a coach under contract, the CFL has no official policy. That’s what makes the current Eskimos/Redblacks standoff such a mess. Edmonton was completely within their right to ask to interview Maas. Ottawa was within theirs to allow the interview and request compensation.

As things currently stand, the Eskimos have made Maas a three year offer to be their HC and OC. He has accepted the contract but can’t legally join them unless the Redblacks release him from his current contract, something they’re refusing to do unless they get compensation. But, Maas has further muddied the waters by handing in his resignation to Ottawa, though that still doesn’t legally release him from his contract with the Redblacks, which runs through 2016.

So where do things go from here? On Monday afternoon, CFL Commissioner Jeffery Orridge will preside over a meeting between the two teams and he’ll need to decide a) If compensation should be awarded, b) If so, what is fair compensation, and c) If Jason Maas can resign from his position with the Redblacks while still under contract, and then join another team as a “free agent”, without consequence. In my mind the last issue is the most pressing, as it would set a horrible precedent and basically render any coaching contract worthless.

It’s an extremely messy situation and one that is sure to get a lot of attention as when asked at the Grey Cup about teams seeking compensation for losing coaches under contract, Orridge was seemingly at a loss for words.

As fans on social media dump on the Redblacks for requesting compensation, it’s again ironic that many of these vocal fans are part of the Eskimo Empire, who just last week were screaming for compensation for the loss of Chris Jones. Can you say displaced anger?

What it really boils down to is that without an official policy on the subject, it was only a matter of time before the CFL has an ugly dispute like this on its hands.

Some fans are quick to point to the NHL as an example of why compensation doesn’t work. But that’s not actually not a valid comparison, as in the NHL, teams fire their coaches and then demand (and receive) compensation when those coaches get re-hired. The CFL could easily get around that by simply deciding that if a coach is under contract and another team is interested in them, they need to be traded for. And if that coach is fired, he’d be a free agent to sign with anyone and the team that fired him wouldn’t be entitled to anything. The main consequence of that kind of policy might lead to more coaches signing short term deals but is that necessarily a bad thing?

Whether you are pro compensation or utterly against it, there’s no denying that one way or another, the CFL needs to set a standard.

Here’s how the CFL currently works. A team takes a chance on an unproven assistant and signs him to a multi-year deal. That assistant goes on to be a spectacular OC/DC. Before his contract is up, other teams around the league come seeking that assistant and sign him away. The team that took the initial risk and who signed the assistant to a long term deal is left empty handed. Does that seem right? In my mind no, why should coach contracts be voided on a whim, whereas players need to honour theirs? When a player signs a deal, he needs to honour it until it’s complete. And if that player is released early, he’s free to sign anywhere. Why can’t coaches be treated the same way? And isn’t it odd that coaches are protected by their contracts if fired but teams aren’t protected by that same contract when a coach leaves early?

At this point there’s no doubt that Jason Maas will indeed be hired as the Eskimos’ new Head Coach, but when exactly that happens and what kind of compensation (if any) is given to the Redblacks, remains to be seen.

***UPDATE***

Following a conference call with the league, Jason Maas has been allowed to accept the Head Coach position and the Eskimos and Redblacks will head to mediation over compensation. Also, the CFL is rumoured to be drafting a policy to finally regulate how coaches under contract are handled.

@RedBlackGade

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Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).