Over the years, the Edmonton Eskimos have done many, many smart things. And they’re about to do another one.

Eric Tillman

In November 2007, Eric Tillman's Saskatchewan Roughriders won their first Grey Cup since 1989. (Bryan Schlosser/Regina Leader-Post)

Today, the Eskimos will officially announce that Eric Tillman will become their new general manager. As a CFL GM, he has won the Grey Cup three times with three different teams. And, on January 4, 2010, he also pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his sixteen-year old babysitter. And that last little tidbit of information is completely irrelevant – and should be – as the Eskimos move into the future.

Eric Tillman began as a CFL general manager with the British Columbia Lions in 1993. He was in his mid-thirties. In 1994, the Lions finished 11-6-1 and went on to defeat Baltimore in the Grey Cup game on a last-seconds field goal by Lui Passaglia. Tillman’s first Grey Cup. In 1997, with Doug Flutie at the helm, Tillman’s Toronto Argonauts defeated Saskatchewan. Tillman’s second Grey Cup.

Doug Flutie

Quarterback Doug Flutie was the toast of Toronto when he led the Argonauts to the 1997 Grey Cup, under head coach Don Matthews

In 2007, with Kent Austin as his head coach, Tillman’s Saskatchewan Roughriders won their first Grey Cup in almost twenty years. Tillman’s stamp as a general manager was all over that team. But then something horrible happened. Tillman’s family babysitter charged him with sexual assault. He was put on paid leave by the Riders. He pleaded guilty, but was granted an absolute discharge. No criminal record. Judge Murray Hinds said, “In this case there’s no suggestion that Mr. Tillman is not generally of good character. He has no prior criminal record. His behaviour towards (the teenage girl) on Aug. 6 (2008) appears to be an aberration fuelled by his consumption of two non-prescription drugs, which he used for sleep and pain relief.”

Outside the courthouse, Tillman responded, “…I want to make it very, very clear that a mistake was made and I, as I said yesterday, I assume full responsibility for it. Although it was without an ounce of malice or intent, it’s a regret that I’ll take to my grave. As I said yesterday I am profoundly sorry.” I’ll hire that guy any day.

Should Eric Tillman have made better decisions than he did? You bet he should have. Should Tillman’s momentary lapse in judgment affect the remainder of his professional career? It should not. I am quickly reminded of another former prominent team executive in Edmonton. Craig MacTavish, the former head coach of the Edmonton Oilers.

Craig MacTavish

After making a life-altering decision to drink and drive, Craig MacTavish went on to play for and coach the NHL's Edmonton Oilers

On January 25, 1984, MacTavish got behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol. He had an accident that killed 26-year old Kim Radley. MacTavish spent a year in jail. Oilers’ GM Glen Sather gave MacT another chance at the NHL. If Craig MacTavish gets another chance – he killed a person – then Eric Tillman certainly does.

Earlier today, a friend suggested that, by hiring Tillman, the Eskimos were “letting him off the hook.” Exactly how long should the man pay for a mistake? Based on his quote, it seems to me he’s paying for it internally every day.

Another friend suggested that the Eskimos might have looked elsewhere and that Tillman “…wasn’t the only man for the job.” That’s right, but he’s the best man for it. The Eskimos stink. Badly. Eric Tillman is the perfect person to step in and make it right.

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