Former Ottawa Renegades GM charged with sex assault
REGINA - Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Eric Tillman, who rode into town two years ago as the white knight and cleaned up the CFL team both on and off the field, has been charged with sexual assault.
Police say the charge stems from an alleged encounter with a 16-year-old girl last summer in Regina.
When the news broke Tuesday, the team swiftly moved to place Tillman on administrative leave while the charge is dealt with. Team president Jim Hopson said the Roughriders will not replace him and will pick up the slack with current staff.
"We need to be respectful of the process," Hopson told a hastily arranged news conference in Regina.
"I think we have to go back again to that presumption of innocence -- that that's the foundation of our society in many ways. So until we know more, we just presume innocence and once we know more, we deal with it."
Police spokeswoman Elizabeth Popowich said an assault is believed to have taken place on Aug. 6 and was reported to police three days later.
Tillman, 51, was arrested on Jan. 27. He turned himself in to police. He was released and is to appear in court Feb. 24.
"I can only say that the alleged incident occurred in Regina and really now that there's a charge before the courts it's inappropriate to discuss it further," Popowich said.
Tillman, a native of Jackson, Miss., and the son of a minister, has been involved in football on both sides of the border for nearly 30 years. The married father of two young children graduated from Ole Miss in 1979 with a journalism degree.
He's a favourite of many reporters for his outgoing, friendly demeanour and willingness to sit down and talk all things football.
Tillman joined the Riders in August 2006, replacing the fired Roy Shivers. In the off-season, Tillman hired former Saskatchewan quarterback Kent Austin as head coach, then proceeded to shave more than $600,000 from the club's payroll to reach the league-mandated salary cap.
He also had the mandate of trying to change the culture of a football team that was developing a tarnished image within the Saskatchewan capital.
Months prior to Tillman's hiring, Riders linebacker Trevis Smith was charged with aggravated sexual assault for knowingly exposing two women to the HIV virus by having unprotected sex with them and not revealing his condition.
In February 2007, Smith was found guilty of two counts of aggravated sexual assault and received a five-year jail sentence. He's scheduled to be released Feb. 25 and deported to the United States.
But Smith wasn't the only Roughrider to get in trouble with the law. Between 1999 and 2007 more than a few players made headlines for off-field incidents ranging from drug possession to assault.
Tillman's deft moves and tough budgetary decisions helped put the emphasis back on the field and away from the courts.
Austin, a fan favourite in Regina for leading the club to the 1989 Grey Cup as the quarterback, was back on the sidelines and Riders fans again had something to cheer about.
Tillman's efforts were rewarded in 2007 when Austin guided the team to a Grey Cup title, the club's first since 1989 and third overall.
Months later Austin shocked the Riders when he left to become the offensive co-ordinator at his alma mater Ole Miss. Tillman responded by promoting offensive co-ordinator Ken Miller as Austin's replacement.
In July 2008, the Riders rewarded Tillman with a contract extension through 2010.
Tillman has enjoyed great success in the CFL as a general manager. He led the B.C. Lions and Toronto Argonauts to Grey Cup titles in 1994 and 1997, respectively, and has worked as a television analyst with TSN and Sportsnet.
He began his football career in 1981 when he joined the public relations department of the NFL's Houston Oilers. He first came to Canada in 1982 as the player-personnel director of the Montreal Concordes. Tillman returned to the U.S. in 1984 when he became executive director of the Senior Bowl, which annually attracts the top draft-eligible NFL prospects.
Tillman returned to the CFL in 1993 when he became general manager of a B.C. Lions team that had posted a 3-15 record the year before. However, B.C. won the 1994 Grey Cup, downing the Baltimore Stallions 26-23 at B.C. Place.
In 1996, Tillman left the CFL to become director of operations for NFL Europe but was back in Canada in '97 as the Toronto Argonauts general manager. He earned his second Grey Cup ring that season.
Tillman also served as the general manager of the expansion Ottawa Renegades for three seasons before returning to broadcasting and ultimately landing the post with the Riders.