Eric Tillman's days in court are over but the fallout from his guilty plea to sexual assault creates serious questions over the longtime executive's CFL future.
Tillman's future as GM of the Saskatchewan Roughriders is expected to be front and centre Wednesday when the CFL club's directors gather at a special meeting.
Requesting anonymity, three sources with extensive CFL knowledge told The Canadian Press on Tuesday they'd be surprised if the Riders kept Tillman on board. He has been on paid administrative leave since being charged last February, working from home throughout the 2009 season.
Tillman received an absolute discharge Tuesday over a charge of sexual assault involving a 16-year-old babysitter in the summer of 2008. That means Tillman won't have a criminal record despite his guilty plea and, as an American citizen, will be able to cross the Canada-U.S. border freely.
The judge in the case accepted Tillman's contention that he was under the influence of a mixture of drugs he was taking for a sore back — and that the GM was sorry for his behaviour.
A contrite Tillman said outside court he hopes his actions won't cost him his job with the team.
Tillman remains tied to the Roughriders through the 2010 season but his contract reportedly contains provisions that automatically extended the deal if the team was successful on the field. That could make shedding Tillman expensive.
All three sources said if Tillman is let go, they believe he will face a tough time finding a high-profile job with another team because of the publicity his legal troubles have generated. That's especially true in the CFL, where a team's public image is crucial to its acceptability in the community because franchises rely heavily on ticket sales to generate revenue.
"Based upon Eric's work as a GM, he has earned another shot at running a team," one source said. "However, the public sentiment that would likely come from his hiring would make it very difficult for another CFL team to consider hiring him.
"Teams need to ask, 'Is the PR risk worth the potential on-field reward."'
Added a second source: "If it was just a question about football, then there'd be no question. But it's not, it's about life and so that makes this different. I believe everyone should get a second chance but this isn't your average situation. There's a lot of people now who will only remember him for being on TV outside a courthouse."
'I don't think I'd look at him'
Tillman, 52, has amassed a solid CFL resume, having been GM of three Grey Cup-winning teams (B.C. Lions in 1994, Toronto Argos in 1997 and Saskatchewan in 2007). He also served as general manager of the Ottawa Renegades and spent time as a football analyst with both TSN and Rogers Sportsnet.
Tillman joined the Riders in 2006, taking over a club whose reputation had been tarnished after several players had run into legal trouble. That prompted the franchise to create a code of conduct that required players to obey the law, act with honesty and integrity, respect others and take responsibility for their actions.
Tillman didn't help write the code of conduct but upon his hiring said he understood why it was in place and that he'd uphold it.
"People don't forget that and I think that's why it would be hard to have him as the face of your team," the second source said. "If I needed a GM and was in a position to hire one, unless I was desperate I don't think I'd look at him immediately.
"But if I was hanging by my nails and my problem was personnel, I'd probably look at him."
But the third source added if Tillman is fired, he'd probably be best served to remain out of the public eye for a year or so, then return to a CFL club as a scout and work his way back into an executive post.
"I think there probably needs to be a cooling-off period," the source said.