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THE CANADIAN PRESS
EDMONTON — Twelve years ago, Kavis Reed quit playing in the CFL after a Tiger-Cat buried his helmet between his shoulder blades, collapsing part of his spine like an accordion. Reed promised his Edmonton Eskimo teammates he would return some day as coach.
On Friday he made good.
Reed, 37, was officially named the new head coach of the CFL team in a news conference with general manager Eric Tillman at Commonwealth Stadium.
“I prepared for this day and this opportunity and fortunately was blessed that it came about,” Reed told reporters after he was named the 19th coach in team history on a three-year-deal.
“We’re going to build a culture that has been reflective of the Eskimos of the past, where you’re afraid to be the weak link and you’re excited about being part of the process.
“I’m prepared to roll up my sleeves and help restore this franchise’s lustre.”
He replaces Richie Hall, who was fired after the Eskimos missed the playoffs following a 7-11 season.
The man from South Carolina comes to Edmonton from Winnipeg, where he served as the Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator last season. He has a history with Tillman, having previously worked with him in Saskatchewan and Ottawa.
He’s made a name for an attack-style defence that allowed the fewest net passing yards (4,580) in 2010 and second fewest yards net offence allowed (6,203).
Reed made headlines last year when he took responsibility for the Roughriders infamous too-many-men penalty on the deciding play of the 2009 Grey Cup, which allowed the Montreal Alouettes to kick a game winning field goal as time expired.
Tillman, then Reed’s boss in Saskatchewan, said Friday that Reed’s mea culpa played into the decision to hire him.
“Kavis stood up and took responsibility and accountability for a mistake that was not his, – that’s leadership and that’s character,” said Tillman.
“I feel great about this decision.”
Reed won’t have to move. He already lives year-round in Edmonton with his wife and two children, who were with him for Friday’s announcement.
He’s got his work cut out for him.
The Eskimos, once the flagship franchise of the league with 34 consecutive playoff appearances, have fallen on hard times. The team has missed the post-season three times in the last five years.
On offence, the Eskimos averaged just over 21 points a game and scored 31 touchdowns, second worst in both categories in 2010.
The defence was worse. Edmonton allowed the most TDs (48), the most yards per game (388.2) and the most points per game (30.3).
Reed declined to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of his new team, or confirm who his assistant coaches might be.
He comes full circle, returning as coach to the team he starred for from 1995 to 1999.
He came to Edmonton from tiny Furman University in South Carolina. The Eskimo coaches just shook their heads at the stick-thin, five-foot-11, 165-lb kid with the spindly legs. On his first day, he flunked the eye test.
“I thought I was going to be cut,” Reed remembered with a laugh.
But he was lightning fast and worked hard in practice. Too hard. He dove for balls sailing out bounds and would get livid when anyone – anyone – beat him on any pass in any drill.
He not only stayed, he started. The 1997 season was the apex. He picked off seven passes, returned two for touchdowns and was named an all-star. He was a wide-side menace: no one caught at TD pass off him that year. He parlayed the success into a tryout the following season with the Kansas City Chiefs, but got cut and came back to Edmonton.
A year later it was all over, on the grass at Commonwealth on Aug. 27.
As Reed chased down Ticat quarterback Danny McManus on a bootleg, a Hamilton receiver delivered a crushing blow with his helmet high on his back, collapsing one of the discs near his neck.
Reed got back up, felt sudden pain and tingling and shrugged if off as a burner. On the next play as he went to chase down the receiver, the spine shut down and he collapsed on the field, his limbs twitching uncontrollably.
“It was a very frightening experience not having any control of my motor system,” said Reed, who remembered lying on the field thinking his wife would now have to take care of him and the kids.
Weeks later, doctors cut into this throat to get at the spine and fused the vertebrae. Today, he said, he doesn’t feel any after effects.
He originally planned to quit the game and study medicine, but football, he said, drew him back.
“Football is sort of like a flu bug,” he laughed. “When it hits you, it’s in your system and it consumes your system.
“For whatever reason, that bug is still there. It’s a passion for me.”