Here are the two things you need to know about Friday’s Ticat news: Eric Tillman is the new general manager and Kent Austin is still in charge.
There is more to it, of course — quite a bit more, actually — but Tillman’s a polarizing figure in the CFL, courtesy of a long, sometimes checkered football resume and one fateful personal misstep for which social media dealt him yet another public flogging after the news was announced.
The simplest interpretation is that Tillman’s promotion from U.S. scout – along with the addition of assistant general manager titles for director of football operations Shawn Burke and director of Canadian scouting Drew Allemang – is that it’s recognition of an already established set of circumstances. Tillman has played a significant role in player personnel since being hired by Austin just a few months after he took over football operations 2013 – as have Burke and Allemang – and these new titles better represent the status quo.
But Austin signed his own four-year extension in January and it’s clear he’s got big plans for the front office, the totality of which would be difficult to execute without more outside help. The Ticats are, quietly, moving steadily onto the cutting edge.
“How we’re building football operations, from overall player development to analytics, to player procurement to high-performance and sports science – there’s a lot of different projects that I have in the long-term vision for building this team, ” Austin said. “As a result, all the roles have expanded and it was appropriate to provide the titles for the expanded roles.”
Austin’s relationship with Tillman goes back more than 30 years, and loyalty likely played a role in the invitation to join the Ticats in the first place: Tillman was coming off a GM stint with the Edmonton Eskimos in which the defining moment was the trading of quarterback Ricky Ray, and he was still in the swirl of a 2008 sexual assault charge to which he pleaded guilty and was given an absolute discharge.
Tillman has apologized numerous times but the incident will remain the defining moment of his career for some CFL fans. Austin, however, has stood by his friend.
And as much as Austin has come to rely on Tillman, Burke, Allemang and others, this should not be seen – in any way – as a lessening of Austin’s role.
It was Austin who suggested this front office remake and he knows he’ll be the one who is ultimately judged by the results. “All final decisions as they relate to football operations still rests with me, ” he said. “And I’m going to be the one accountable.”