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Around the CFL: August 22, 2006

<p>It won't be this week. And it may not be next week. Or the week after that.</p>

It won't be this week. And it may not be next week. Or the week after that.


Eventually, however, Kent Austin will become thehead coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.


Details of the future hiring areinthe York Report column --available in all Metro editionsacross Canada(and elsewhere on this web site)as ofWednesday -- butthe scoop is basically this:



Eric Tillman will officially be identified as theRiders' new general manager this week --most likelyon Wednesday -- as he has signed a three-year deal with the club to succeed Roy Shivers, who was fired on Monday.


Tillman already has told Austin that he will hire him to replace Danny Barrett as the head coach in Saskatchewan. Tillman and Austin are close friends, both from Mississippi.


When Tillman was the GM of the now-defunct Ottawa Renegades, Austin was the team's offensive co-ordinator. When Austin was fired as the Argonauts' offensive co-ordinator recently, Tillman used his platform as a CFL television analyst to criticize Torontoon its move. At the time, Tillman described Austin as one of the most intelligent coaches he's known.


So when will Austin take over as head coach in Saskatchewan?


The answer is that, if the Riders remain inconsistent, Austin will replace Barrett sooner rather than later. Should theteampick up from where it left off last weekend, when it trounced the lowly Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and should the team stay hot, Barrett will stick around if he'd like.


Butonly until the end of this season, when his contract expires. Austin would then take over immediately after this season.





• Saskatchewan will be Tillman's fifth CFL club. Besides Ottawa, he also has had GM stints and/or front-office roles with the Montreal Alouettes, B.C. Lions and the Argos.


He started his CFL career in Montreal in 1980, when then-head coach Joe Galat wanted him to work as an aide to the late Bob Geary, then the Als' general manager. Galat knew Tillman when the latter worked as a public-relations type for the NFL's Houston Oilers. Tillman helped out with the Oilers' magazine.


It didn't take long for Tillman to get under Geary's skin in Montreal. The former GM and a one-time boxing champion punched Tillman in the eye during a spat, and Tillman sported a shiner for weeks.


It was one of several memorable confrontations Tillman has had in his organizations. He had trouble, for instance, getting along with Don Matthews when the latter was the head coach and Tillman was the GM with the Argonauts last decade.


And then there was Ottawa, where Tillmancompleted some poor deals and engraved himself in the bad books of the club's moody CEO, John Liskowski.Tillman also wound up in something of a cold war with the Renegades' head coach, Joe Paopao.


More than anything, Tillman has established a reputation for being extremely thin-skinned and sensitive. He often has called the bosses of media types to complain about what has been written or said about him.


But, through it all, he has managed to keep a good public image and he has kept his profile relatively high. And the general perception is that he is a sharp football man whose pros outweigh his cons.


In Saskatchewan, where fans follow CFL football like nowhere else in Canada, Tillman has a chance to become a hero. Then again, if the team fails, he'll be the target of the kind of negative attention he has never before experienced.


Here's hoping that, as he enters his 50s, his skin thickens.





• And so while Shivers is gone, he won't be forgotten, and my sources tell me there's already interest in him as an assistant GM elsewhere.


He might join the B.C. Lions next year.


Shivers used to be an assistant coach in B.C. and he used to work for Lions GM/head coach Wally Buono when the two were running the Calgary Stampeders. They made an excellent front-office team, although Buono also has done well with Bob O'Billovich as his right-hand man in B.C.


Shivers was the first and only black GM in CFL history.


I found an old quote of his from a conversation we had a couple of years ago. It's worth resurrecting now.


"When I get fired, I get fired," he said. "And that won't kill me because I know I've done my father proud and I know I've done black people in general proud. And I've made myself proud, getting to where I've gotten.


"And, when I'm done, I'll know this, too. I've been the best general manager in the history of the CFL."


We'll miss Shivers -- for his quotes, for his humour, for his insight and, yes, for his pride.





• And when Barrett is fired, there'll be only one black head coach left in the CFL.


And who knows how long Michael (Pinball) Clemons will wish to remain with the Argonauts?


See, I've reported this several times in the past and I'll say it again:


Clemons is thinking of leaving the Argos after this season and becoming a politician. He'd win a mayoral election in Toronto by a landslide. That's how popular he is in the city.





• Clemons may not be that popular, however, with Robert Baker, the receiver he cut for disciplinary reasons a couple of weeks ago.


Baker was claimed on CFL waivers by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but he's decided to forego his six-figure salary and stay out of football this year.


Reports suggest Baker wants to start a career in music, but my sources tell me he's hoping to return to the NFL next year.





• One of the CFL's problems has historically been the frequency with which formidable players fall into their coaches' doghouses.


Baker is one example. And, earlier this season, Antonio Warren was cut by the Lions even though he perennially starred in the league. Mysteriously, Warren hasn't resurfaced anywhere else in the CFL.


And now there's John Grace. Only last season, Grace was chosen the premier defensive player in the Western Division.


Now, I'm told, the linebacker is on the verge of being released or traded by the Stamps. The Stamps seem to think he's lost his talent.


I don't get it.





• Sooner or later, Ricky Williams is going to recover from his injuries and the high-profile running back will be ready to return to the Argos.


Don't expect him to be back in the Toronto lineup, though.



John Avery has played well in Williams's absence, and the Argos will do everything they can to get out of their contractual obligations with Williams and send him back to the NFL, where he belongs.


And, oh yes, I told you before the season that Williams would flop in the CFL. (Just had tomention that. Sorry.)





• Mind you, I also predicted the Hamilton Tiger-Cats would be a good team this year and, well, they certainly are not.


They're the worst team in the CFL, and there are those who believe quarterback Jason Maas has been playing hurt.


The Ticats refute that, however, and Maas will start again for the Cats when they entertain the Roughriders on Saturday night.


Last week, while they were being slaughtered in Regina by the Riders, beleaguered Hamilton head coach Ron Lancaster replaced Maas with Kevin Eakin.





• Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo turned in a rare clunker last week, when the Argos' defence intercepted five of his passes.


"I'm human," Calvillo, who turns 34 on Wednesday, told The Montreal Gazette's Herb Zurkowsky. "The key is to bounce back and prove that game was a fluke.


"I have to prove to my teammates that game was one in a million."





• Before there were Snakes on a Plane, there were Mice in a Locker.


And B.C. linebacker Carl Kidd was frightened to the point where he ran wildly and aimlessly when he opened his locker and found a mouse in it.


It was placed there by none other than B.C. kicker Paul McCallum, who was getting even. Kidd poured a bucket of water on McCallum when the kicker was on the toilet.


Boys, I guess, will be boys.




Message from Marty York:



After about three decades of covering the CFL in newspapers, magazines, on national television and on radio, the folks who run Metro newspapers have given me the opportunity to report on the league in a new and efficient way -- online, right here at

www.metronews.ca

. Here, I will have the space and freedom to cover the league the way that will best serve you. My reports will be updated at least twice a week and will include information you're not likely to find elsewhere. I will also give you my weekly CFL picks. And I welcome email from CFL fans -- send them to

marty.york@metronews.ca

. I'll publish some from time to time. I'm very excited about this venture, and I hope you will be, too.

 
 
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