Although Jason Maas still had one year left on his contract with the Edmonton Eskimos, Brock Sunderland relieved him of his head coaching duties Tuesday morning. Maas had been in the position since being hired by Ed Hervey in December of 2015 and in his four years with the Eskimos, compiled a record of 39-33 in the regular season and 3-3 in the playoffs. A couple of the things that eluded the team during his tenure was a home playoff game or a Grey Cup appearance.
The fans reactions to Maas being fired were mixed. Many thought he should have been let go back in September when it became evident the team would need the cross over to make the playoffs. Others felt he was being unfairly blamed for the fortunes of the team and should get the last year of his contract to prove what he could do. Sunderland did not give any specifics to why he was letting Maas go, but did say he felt the team underachieved the past two seasons. When you consider the talent in the organization the past two seasons, their record (9-9 and 8-10 respectively) was not good enough.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Sunderland was asked if there was a timeline for the hiring of a new head coach? His response was that while he did not have a specific date in mind, he wanted it to be sooner rather than later. He felt it was very important to hire the right person for the job and not be rushed to make a decision. The first couple of names that have been mentioned as potential replacements are former Ottawa RedBlack head coach Rick Campbell and Winnipeg Blue Bomber offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice. Both are very qualified, but both will also likely be interviewed for the head coaching vacancy with the B.C. Lions.
Sunderland was also asked if the firing of Jason Maas might have an impact on the team’s ability to sign the team’s current ‘free agents’ for next season? He downplayed any suggestion it would as he felt free agency has been very ‘fluid’ over the past couple of years and a coaches presence was not necessarily a major factor when it came to the player movement. You do not need to look any further than all the free agents the Eskimos signed last as an example of what he was talking about.
According to the Third Down Nation website, the Eskimos have 25 players who will be free agents as of February 2020 (https://3downnation.com/2019/11/28/the-edmonton-eskimos-potential-2020-free-agent-list/). When you look at how the team performed the past two seasons, there is no doubt a number of these players will not be returning to the team. While Sunderland talked about the team being talented and underachieving, there are definitely areas the team will need to improve if they are going to be a serious Grey Cup contender in 2020.
The two areas I see needing improvement are at defensive back and receiver. While the Eskimo defence was a respectable third overall, they were ranked fifth against the pass by the end of the season. There was a time when the Eskimo pass defence was rated number one and the decline in that area needs to be addressed for next season. While the Eskimo receiving corps produced two 1000 yard receivers this season, the production for the rest of the receivers dropped significantly. It was not nearly good enough and if the team is going to be a serious contender next season, that will have to improve as well.
Whoever gets the job as the next head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos will have some tough personnel decisions to make. While Brock Sunderland said he believed the team had talent, they did not produce to a level that is required to win a championship. With 25 players set to become free agents there is no doubt going to be a high level of turnover, what will be interesting to see is which players will be back and which ones won’t? Then factor in ‘free agency’ and you have the potential for even more turnover than what was experienced last year.