Entering the season as many people’s Grey Cup favourites, the star-studded Edmonton Elks now sit in the West Division basement with two embarrassing losses to the last place Ottawa Redblacks their credit. That has plenty of questions swirling surrounding the team’s collapse and Eddie Steele has the answers.
The former Edmonton defensive linemen is in the booth calling games for the Elks’ broadcast partner 630 CHED this season and he believes he knows the root of the problem thanks to his proximity to the team.
“I think there is a major division amongst the players in the locker room that goes back to the whole COVID outbreak. You’ve got a lot of guys who are on opposite sides and they’re just really not playing together as a team, but it actually goes even higher than that,” Steele told The Rod Pedersen Show.
“I was on a radio show yesterday talking about it and it starts from the top down. Brock Sunderland, their GM, I think there’s some issues with him and just the way he conducts himself, the way he does business. It’s a trickle down effect throughout the organization. Ultimately, he’s the captain of the ship and where he steers, the ship is going to go. I think he’s a major factor why we’re seeing the Elks in the situation that they’re in right now.”
The Elks have been mired in controversy all season, with much of it linked back to Sunderland. Top paid head coach Scott Milanovich departed suddenly for the NFL without ever coaching a game for the team and since then multiple former players have fired back at Sunderland over the way their contracts have been handled or how their releases were discussed with the media.
Issues came to a head when the Elks suffered the league’s first COVID outbreak last month, causing the postponement of their game in Toronto. In total, a league leading 17 Elks players have entered COVID protocol this season. It was reported earlier this week that Sunderland as not been vaccinated and has received a medical exemption after consultation with several doctors.
The poor performance on the field and the dismissal of two different special teams coordinators has seen many put first time head coach Jaime Elizondo on the hot seat, but Steele believes the bench boss will get another opportunity. It is on Sunderland’s shoulders that the blame should fall.
“The arrow points directly back to Brock and how he has handled the coaches, because Brock is the one who’s in charge. It’s not necessarily Jaime who’s in charge and calling the shots,” Steele said. “I don’t think that Jaime Elizondo will be gone next year.”
With a major problem at the top of the organization in his view, Steele has little hope that he’ll be calling many wins for the Elks in the second half of the season.
“They’re staring down the pipe at a home and home right now with Winnipeg. Winnipeg’s the best team in the league, they’re not going to win those games. They have a couple of tough games against Saskatchewan and then to finish the year the Elks have three games in seven days,” he said frankly.
“I think at that point in time, the players are going to be showing up just to collect a check. I don’t think their heart’s going to be in it and let’s see if their physical bodies will be in it, because that’s unprecedented to play three games in seven days in pro football.”
What does that mean exactly? Steele didn’t pull any punches on Edmonton’s playoff hopes.
“The Elks don’t have a shot in my opinion.”