Two-time CFL all-star defensive end Odell Willis wasn’t impressed with Brock Sunderland’s five-year tenure as the general manager of the Edmonton Elks.
“It was from top down, nobody really wanted to play for Brock. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy, a bad person, but as far as football-wise, me personally, I just didn’t think he knew what he was doing,” Willis said on The Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.
“They hand you the keys to a Maybach and you turn it into a Hyundai. The team that Ed and coach [Chris Jones] put together, who wouldn’t want to have that team? And you take a playoff and Grey Cup contending team and just run it into the ground just because of your choices and your ego compared to wanting to win games.”
Sunderland replaced Ed Hervey as the general manager in Edmonton in 2017, inheriting a 10-8 football team that was only one year removed from a Grey Cup title. The club went 12-6 in Sunderland’s first year at the helm but regressed in each subsequent season, bottoming out at 3-11 in 2021 when he was fired.
“We got a small league and guys talk. He started off wrong with some of the changes around the organization, you let (equipment manager) Dwayne (Mandrusiak) go, you let people who know how the tradition goes and doing things in Edmonton. It’s just so many things and once guys see that, ‘OK, this guy don’t care about us or the team,’ it’s like I might as well fend for myself,” said Willis.
“It’s plain and simple, like, ‘OK, I can see this guy is not trying to help us win in no shape, form or fashion, so why not just care about myself and do my thing?’ Guys are not going to play for people who don’t care about them and have their best interest as a team and as a player.”
The 37-year-old pass rusher criticized Sunderland for refusing to cut Derek Dennis even though the veteran requested his release just one week after signing with Edmonton in January 2021. The former all-star offensive tackle was finally released along with 10 other veterans in December after Chris Jones was hired as the team’s new head coach and general manager.
Willis was in training camp with the Toronto Argonauts in 2021 but was released prior to the start of the regular season. He spent five of his twelve CFL seasons in Edmonton (2013-2017), recording 126 tackles, 46 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and three interceptions in 86 games with the Green and Gold — Willis now lives in the city year-round.
“This is what this city is about: we want to win. Once it starts snowballing, ya’ll know how it goes. Once that snowball starts rolling there ain’t nothing you can do. I’m glad the Elks did what they did to get rid of it so we can get this city back to winning and fans back to being happy about going to see the Elks play,” said Willis.
“If you win people are going to fill up the stands for you and you don’t have to worry about those things.”