JONES: Eskimos general manager Sunderland not interested in “mudslinging” after firing head coach Maas
Jason Maas was finally given the shove off the cliff.
Maas was clearly coaching from the edge of a cliff dating back to Labour Day and maybe even the end of the previous season, when his Edmonton Eskimos missed the playoff in a Grey Cup hosting year.
The idea, at least as projected by this columnist, was if he didn’t get the Eskimos to the Grey Cup game in Calgary, he’d be history.
He didn’t. He was fired Wednesday.
There was a long list of reasons to fire the 21st head coach of the formerly fabled CFL club:
• Maas didn’t manage to coach a team with top quarterbacks, no shortage of good skill position players as well as dominant defensive front seven and offensive lines to one single, solitary home playoff game.
• Indeed, during the regular season, he didn’t manage to coach the team general manager Brock Sunderland gave him to one win over a team positioned ahead of them in the standings.
• Taking over a team that won the Grey Cup in 2015, Maas didn’t once get it back to the big game, missing the playoffs once and finishing fourth in the West twice.
Those reasons alone were enough to get him gonged and gone in Edmonton. But there was more.
Maas never managed to get his headset-throwing sideline displays of an out-of-control temper and anger-management problems harnessed.
For four years, his team took on the personality of the coach, leading the league in penalties, especially the after-the-whistle, senseless variety. So, it ought not be a shock that the former Eskimos backup quarterback was canned with a year remaining on his contract by Sunderland, who had inherited him from departed GM Ed Hervey, but did extend his contract after a season. Indeed, based on all of that alone, what took so long?
Sunderland, predictably, didn’t identify any specific reasons why Maas was fired.
“Ultimately I thought these past two seasons that we underachieved and that was where the final decision came from.”
Maybe Maas should have been fired the day after the Eskimos returned from their 36-16 defeat to the Tiger-Cats in the crossover Eastern final.
But there were the pleas by the Eskimos top two players, Trevor Harris and Greg Ellington, during the playoffs to keep Maas that made it an interesting call for Sunderland despite all of the above.
That was as good a place for me to start as any when the GM, who formerly worked with Maas, Harris, Ellingson and potential replacement Rick Campbell in Ottawa. Did those statements cause Sunderland to have second thoughts?
“I respect all our players opinions but ultimately my job is to do what I think is best for the organization. I know those two. They are consummate pros and they are going to play hard for anybody we choose to have here as the head coach,” he said.
The obvious follow to that was about the availability of Campbell who coached Harris and Ellington in Ottawa.
When I asked that one, Sunderland dodged it.
When asked if he’d spoke to Harris and Ellingson about the firing, Sunderland admitted he had.
“I spoke to a couple of players and all those conversations I’m going to keep private. But I’ve spoken to players and coaches, yes.”
When I inquired whether any of the coaches had contacts that extended past the end of this season, Sunderland admitted there was one, that of defensive co-ordinator Philip Lolley.
Sunderland said he waited until two days after the Grey Cup fire Maas to keep emotions out of it.
“I wanted to take my time and not make a long-term decision on short-term emotions, whether that was the excitement of winning the playoff game in Montreal or the disappointing 2-7 finish to the regular season or the Hamilton loss.”
One by one, the assembled media attempted to probe Sunderland for specifics.
He was asked about the steady stream of discipline issues involved in the four-year Maas regime.
“Obviously, penalties came into play and at different times they presented themselves. There were a lot of reasons and pieces to the puzzle as to why this final decision was made but it wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. And anything specific is going to come across as mudslinging and I don’t think this is the time or place for that.”
Maas would not have been the first head coach to be fired because he’d be hard to foist off on the ticket-buying public going forward.
But while that almost certainly would have been a major challenge going forward, Sunderland swore it wasn’t involved.
“Football decisions are football decisions,” he said. “This is a football decision.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge