The Reilly Era is now approaching its third week and while it’s far too early to draw hard and fast conclusions about his presence — let’s let the guy throw a forward pass first — the early returns for the Lions are encouraging.When the B.C. Lions went to market with a four-year, $3-million deal in their hip pocket, they figured they were going to emerge with a very good quarterback.For the Lions, that was also the easy part of the equation.The more difficult assignment was landing the right quarterback for what they had in mind; someone who’d revitalize an offence that had grown stagnant over the last two seasons, yes, but someone who could also revitalize a CFL franchise that had grown tired and stale.
New B.C. quarterback Mike Reilly carries his six-month-old daughter Cadence as he and his wife Emily arrive for a Lions news conference in Surrey on Feb. 12.
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There might have been easier jobs. Spokesman for SNC-Lavalin pops to mind. But when Lions GM Ed Hervey made his pitch to Mike Reilly, he laid out what would be expected of the veteran quarterback and what Reilly could expect from the club.“OK,” said Reilly. “Where do I sign?”And that’s when the Lions knew they had targeted the right man.“You play football to win championships, but there’s a much larger challenge I’m asking you to think about,” Hervey said, recounting his courtship of the CFL’s biggest free agent. “That’s reigniting one of the largest markets in the CFL, and there are few players who have the profile to do that.“He’s very aware of the responsibility. He could have stayed in Edmonton and it might have been easy for him. But he’s embraced all of this.”But will he be embraced by this province? That’s what the Lions are in the process of discovering.The Reilly Era is now approaching its third week and while it’s far too early to draw hard and fast conclusions about his presence — let’s let the guy throw a forward pass first — the early returns for the Lions are encouraging.In the first week of Reilly’s signing, the Leos reported their largest sales since 2012, when they were coming off a Grey Cup, and their highest renewal rate on season tickets since that year.New sales are up more than 200 per cent from last year, and while team president Rick LeLacheur shied away from hard predictions, he did offer: “There’s no question we’ll be up.”
B.C. Lions quarterback Mike Reilly is reunited with now-Leos general manager Ed Hervey on Tuesday in Surrey. Six years ago, Hervey had brought Reilly to the Edmonton Eskimos in a trade.
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THE CANADIAN PRESS
That was the hope when Reilly signed. According to LeLacheur, the club had four marketing plans in place for whoever was acquired out of free agency. The first involved Reilly. The second involved Trevor Harris, who signed with Edmonton. The third involved a trade for James Franklin. And the fourth, yikes, revolved around a revamped defence.We’ll never know how the other three would have played out. But, in Reilly, the Lions got a willing salesman in addition to a franchise quarterback.The day of the signing, Reilly recorded a message that was sent out to some 11,000 prospective fans and he instantly became the poster boy for an aggressive campaign conducted through, as always, social media platforms.Far from shrinking from the spotlight, Reilly seems to draw strength from it and, with his folksy, good-natured charm, he makes the ideal pitchman.“I’m not lost on the difficulty of the challenge,” Reilly said. “It’s something Ed and I talked about and something I talked about with Rick a number of times in the past couple of weeks.“I think it helps I’m a Pacific Northwest guy (Reilly grew up in Kennewick, went to college at Central Washington and now lives in Seattle).“I’m not lost on the difficulty of the challenge. There are so many different options here. You have to make it worth people’s time. And you have to make them feel invested in the team.”That will be up to Reilly. It’s instructive to note the bulk of the Lions’ off-season moves were made with the new quarterback in mind. Their second-biggest signing was Canadian offensive lineman Sukh Chungh, a 6-4, 300-pound brawler from Port Coquitlam who was a West Division All-Star with Winnipeg last season.Hervey also brought in mercurial wideout Duron Carter while re-signing all-Canadian receiver Bryan Burnham.The Lions will score in 2019. So we’ll get back to the discussion about stopping the other guys.“Anyone can tell you they want to win Grey Cups,” Reilly said. “But I want to know how. How are you going to build a team? What’s going to separate us and make us different?”As for the answers to those questions, it helped that Reilly had been down this road before with Hervey. In 2013, Hervey, then the GM in Edmonton, acquired Reilly in a trade with the Lions. Two years later they won a Grey Cup with the Eskimos before Hervey was dismissed prior to the 2017 season.“When it’s someone you’ve worked with before and you’ve seen him do it, it’s not just hope and smoke,” Reilly said.“So when he tells you those things and within a couple of weeks you already see those pieces falling in place, you go, ‘Yeah, I knew I made the right decision,’ but this just confirms it.”But there’s more to this plan.“We’re on a much larger mission than just winning championships,” Hervey said.No, winning back the fans, that will be the hard firstname.lastname@example.org/willesonsportsCLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email email@example.com