Eric Tillman has officially been hired as the new general manager of the Edmonton Eskimos, the CFL club announced Tuesday at a news conference in Edmonton.
Tillman, 52, has been out of the league since stepping down as GM of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in January after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old babysitter in August 2008.
During Tuesday's announcement, Tillman became emotional at points, even breaking down in tears. He acknowledged that there would be strong reaction to the hiring.
"Some people forgive easier than others …," he said. "A lot of people will be in the middle and take a wait-and-see approach. I understand that. And then there other people who are going to feel strongly. Not only do I understand that, I respect it."
Eskimos president and CEO Rick LeLacheur said hiring Tillman was a difficult decision because of the potential reaction from the community. LeLacheur acknowledged the Eskimos office has received phone calls and emails, with 60 to 65 per cent of callers opposing the move.
"Do I believe this community believes in giving people a second chance? Yes I do and I've seen it," he said.
"Do I believe that Eric Tillman deserves that chance? Yes I do. Will people in this community give him that chance? We're asking them to. And Eric is committed to everything possible to earn their support."
'I hurt two families'
Tillman received an absolute discharge, meaning he doesn't have a criminal record. The judge found that Tillman's actions were out of character for him.
The court heard that he had taken a dose of sleeping pills and muscle relaxants the night he grabbed the girl by the hips from behind and used her belt loops to pull her towards him.
The most emotional moment of the news conference was when Tillman was asked by a reporter how he was changed by what happened.
Tillman's eyes welled up with tears during a long pause. "You obviously asked a good question," he said.
"I understand to a degree that I had no comprehension previously the true value of family and friends," he said haltingly. "Of unconditional love. I understand that as individuals we're not islands and that our actions impact other people .…
"I hurt two families. I hurt the Rider Nation of the Canadian Football League .… It's a privilege to be in this league, not a right."
Coach Hall now under microscope
Tillman will replace former GM Danny Maciocia, who was fired July 31. His first order of business will be to evaluate head coach Richie Hall.
Tillman won three Grey Cup championships as GM with three different teams, including the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2007.
The former Saskatchewan defensive co-ordinator posted a 9-9 record in his first season as a CFL head coach in 2009. He added the defensive co-ordinator's job this season and has seen his team struggle mightily in his sophomore campaign.
Tillman has also worked as a football analyst with TSN and Rogers Sportsnet. He broke into the CFL 28 years ago working in the personnel department of the Montreal Concordes before becoming the executive director of the Senior Bowl in 1984.
He remained there for eight years before taking his first CFL general manager's job with the B.C. Lions in 1993. He left B.C. to become the executive director of NFL Europe in 1995 before returning to Canada in 1997, this time as GM of the Toronto Argonauts.
Tillman was then named GM of the expansion Ottawa Renegades in 2002, a job he held until 2004 before being named GM of the Riders in 2007.