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Eskimos Top 5: Candidates to replace Jason Maas as head coach

If it’s true you never get a second chance to make a first impression, then Brock Sunderland’s next step is a crucial one.

Sure, the Edmonton Eskimos general manager has held the post for three full seasons now, but after having fired the head coach he inherited way back when, Sunderland’s first head coach hire by a first-time GM will definitely stick out on the ol’ resume.

And if history is any indication, given the amount of Ottawa connections the former Redblacks assistant GM has on his current roster in Edmonton, it’s not much of a stretch to assume Sunderland will hire someone he’s already worked with in the past.

“That’s very important to find the right guy. Ultimately, we want the best success we can have for this organization,” Sunderland said during Wednesday’s press conference in the wake of Jason Maas’s dismissal as Eskimos head coach. “The qualities I’m looking for overall, this will come across vague but the truth is, ultimately, the person who gives us the best opportunity to compete for a Grey Cup.

“Is it mandatory they have CFL experience? No, but is that something that I am looking for in a characteristic? Yes.”

Having said that, we took the liberty to do some of the groundwork as Sunderland’s search gets underway for the 22nd head coach of the Eskimos:

Rick Campbell – The cream of this off-season’s class of head-coach candidates may already be spoken for by a B.C. Lions crew he is more than a little familiar with. In Edmonton, Campbell worked with current Lions president Rick LeLacheur, GM Ed Hervey and, if you believe the rumours, their next offensive co-ordinator in Jason Maas, too. The 48-year-old, who won two Grey Cups as an Eskimos assistant coach, spent all six of the Ottawa Redblacks’ seasons in the league so far as their head coach, going 44-62-2 on the way to three division championships, a 4-3 post-season record and a Grey Cup.

Jaime Elizondo – And ze plot thickens. Elizondo left his position as offensive co-ordinator in Ottawa mere weeks before training camp, after the Redblacks blocked him from interviewing for the head coaching position with the Saskatchewan Roughriders vacated by Chris Jones. And Campbell blamed him for Ottawa’s downfall this season. Talk about a heated relationship? More like hatred, from the sounds of things. Elizondo might as well be at the top of the Eskimos’ list, given his high degree of success coaching the likes of Trevor Harris and Greg Ellingson, while working with Sunderland at the same time.

Paul LaPolice – Probably still stinking of champagne showers and dizzy from parading the Grey Cup through the streets of Winnipeg for the first time in three decades, Blue Bombers offensive co-ordinator LaPolice is the hottest candidate on the list right now. His currency has gone through the roof following Sunday’s 33-12 Grey Cup victory over the heavily favoured Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But wait, didn’t he go 16-28 the first time around as a head coach with the Bombers from 2010-12? Yes, just like it’s also true there is no such thing as having too much experience.

Tommy Condell – Remember that part about Hamilton being heavily favoured? Yeah, Condell might have had something to do with the Ticats posting a franchise-high 15 wins, as the offensive co-ordinator who not only survived a season-ending knee injury to starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, but helped backup Dane Evans evolve into an absolute force in his stead. The same could be said for Condell, who received a last-minute promotion to the co-ordinator role following the departure of June Jones in May. Up until Sunday, Condell was the hottest candidate on the list of would-be coaches.

Phillip Lolley ­– The Eskimos defensive co-ordinator is the only holdover from Maas’s coaching staff who is still under contract for the 2020 season. And with the salary cap on coaches, if the Eskimos end up using their one exemption on replacing their head coach – which you figure they would, considering Maas was also under contract next year – then said replacement will inherit a defensive co-ordinator. Unless, of course, Lolley ends up tossing his well-worn hat into the ring for the job as the lone candidate from the defensive side of scrimmage. If not, they will have to count that against the cap or keep him.

Marcel Bellefeuille ­­– One potential replacement might have already been added to the Eskimos payroll midway through the year, when Bellefeuille – who spent three and a half seasons head coaching the Ticats from 2008-11 – joined Edmonton’s scouting staff. His final season in Hamilton ended up one win shy of going to the Grey Cup. Bellefeuille has been a co-ordinator, been a head coach and won a U-Sports national championship as head coach of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees in 2000.


On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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