It is a philosophy that may sound cliché- that is until you hear the newly minted Lions General Manager talk about it.
“‘We before I’ is a concept I truly embrace. I believe you can do more as a team than you can as an individual,” Ed Hervey told bclions.com.
How far would he be willing to go with that? You would be pleasantly surprised.
“I wouldn’t have a problem, as the General Manager, helping people paint buildings or shovel dirt to get a project done. I don’t think I’m bigger than everything; I’m just a level -headed, down to earth person. People will see that. I enjoy winning. I enjoy people. More importantly, I’m excited about the opportunity to work here. When I’m coming to work I’m coming to work hard, to win,” the 14th GM in team history added.
The teamwork mentality and willingness to get his hands dirty can probably be traced back to Hervey’s upbringing. Born in Houston and raised in Compton, California, Hervey recognized early on that football was his escape from the crime and gang life that riddled his neighbourhood. Many of his high school classmates never made it out of there alive. Hervey remembers one specific moment where he knew he wanted to pursue the game for a living.
“I’ve told this story many times when talking to kids about their dreams,” the now 44-year old recalled.
“It was Thanksgiving Day in the late ‘70s, and of course the Cowboys were playing. We are big Cowboys fans, especially my mom. I remember them scoring a touchdown to win the game late and hearing my mom just yelling and screaming. She wasn’t an emotional woman, normally really reserved. After running into the living room and seeing replay of the touchdown, I looked at my mother, then at the TV screen and wondered what was going on.”
It was the first of many experiences he would have with game winning touchdowns. It also gave him a key to his mother Velma’s heart.
“She told me that the Cowboys had won the game. I looked at the screen again and told her I wanted to do that when I grew up. Whatever it was that made my mom that happy, that’s what I wanted to do. So that’s what kicked off my love and passion for football and the Cowboys.”
Hours before his first official day on the new job, Hervey had one clear message: Wally Buono was far and away his number one choice to lead this team on the sidelines for one more season. After assessing the roster pieces already in place, it was really the only logical decision.
“When he and I finally had a chance to speak, my question to him was if he were to return would he be 100 percent committed and motivated? The answer that he gave was ‘absolutely.’ That was more than enough for me to know that Wally needed to be the head coach of this football team,” Hervey said.
For Buono, the chance to focus on just one role in his final swan song made this a very appealing avenue to take as he begins to prepare for a 16th season with the franchise he helped rescue in 2003.
“Just get one thing clear: Ed had complete say on who he wanted as his head coach,” Buono stated.
“I’m doing this because I want to coach. I want to coach a football team that I still believe in. I want to coach the players that I believe in. That’s what I am here for. My career is going to be (until) 2018. Don’t ask me what I am doing after 2018, because I am not coaching and I’m not going to be involved with the BC Lions. I might be involved with the CFL. This is my final year. This is, for me, an ability to help the football club, be a part of the transition, but also to do what I enjoy most which is coaching.”
“My role is no different than a Mark Trestman (Toronto) or a Dave Dickenson (Calgary). The fact that I have a relationship with the owner helps both of us.”
“He is a person I have had a lot of respect for, and he is a person who has had a lot of success in our league in more than one capacity, which is a tremendous asset for us,” the CFL Godfather added.
Although the new GM has the final say on roster decisions and the salary cap, he doesn’t believe in simply coming in and ruling with an iron fist.
“When a decision is made, it is made as an organization,” Hervey explained.
“That’s when we talk about the We before the I: I believe we will have that type of success. What we talk about in the closed door sessions is still for the best interest of the BC Lions.”
“It is important that the GM and head coach are on the same page when it comes to building a football team. ‘Full Control’ and stuff like that are just terms that are thrown around. I didn’t come in looking for control. What I came in looking for was an opportunity to help build and be a part of something special.”
A young Hervey went from playing schoolyard football in Compton- the family couldn’t afford to play organized sports- to Pasadena City College. Then came the first main catalyst to achieving his personal goal: a scholarship to USC where he would play under legendary coach John Robinson and future NFL star Keyshawn Johnson.
“Being from California, SC is THE football factory,” Hervey claimed.
“People dream about UCLA or USC, but the Trojans are the main factory.”
Hervey was a fifth round draft pick by his beloved Cowboys in 1995. He used his NFL signing bonus to move his mother and sister out of Compton. They now reside just outside of Las Vegas. Although a leg injury kept him out of action for the entire Super Bowl winning ’95 season, Hervey had a front row seat to learn all about becoming a champion in pro football. He especially took a liking to future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees Michael Irvin and Deon Sanders.
“I just learned how they worked and all about their mission,” he recalled.
“The previous year they had lost the NFC Championship to the 49ers after winning back-to-back Super Bowls. The drive to redeem themselves and get back to the Super Bowl was something to watch. You learn so much from being around those kind of people; knowing that they’re at the highest level of their profession, but the thing that never gets noticed or talked about is how much work they put in. I was there to witness that first hand, just how much time in the weight room, how early guys were arriving and stuff like that. I took that with me to Canada.”
Those experiences with the Trojans and Cowboys gave Hervey his first real taste of what a winning program was all about. When he first arrived in Edmonton as a player in 1999, it didn’t take long for the speedy wide receiver to get accustomed to the winning tradition of Eskimos football. After all, the green and gold were in the midst of an all-time CFL record 34 consecutive playoff appearances. The legendary Hugh Campbell certainly gave him an early sense of what a winning executive should be.
“From the first day I set foot in Edmonton, it was all about winning. Hugh was the president of the team and he had a long history of being the head coach and GM. The culture in Edmonton was ‘win.’ If you didn’t fit into that culture you were not there,” Hervey explained.
After eight seasons, two grey cups and a pair of CFL All-Star nods, Hervey immediately joined the Eskimos’ scouting department; making the jump to General Manager at the start of 2013. The Eskimos went 4-14 in Hervey’s first season in charge. Two years later they were Grey Cup champions. During his tenure, Hervey added the likes of Brandon Zylstra, Derel Walker and Aaron Grymes from various free agent camps in the United States.
But perhaps his most significant addition was a deal he engineered with Buono to bring quarterback Mike Reilly to the Alberta capital.
It was during those trade negotiations where Buono got a first hand look at how shrewd the new Lions GM could be.
“I was shopping a player around for a trade and Ed was the brand new GM,” Buono explained.
“I think I got told ‘no’ by three people. Ed stuck his neck on the line, made the trade and he reaped the benefits of it. That player helped that organization win a Grey Cup and that player has made that organization into a contender every year.”
As for the Lions’ current quarterback situation, the new boss will not jump to any conclusions after Jonathon Jennings struggled for various stretches of this past season.
“Jonathon has a tremendous ability. He’s accurate. He’s athletic. I think when he got banged up early in the year, from an outsider’s perspective, it looked like it shook his confidence a little bit. There is no question he has tremendous upside and tremendous ability to be one of the stars in this league. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to sit down with him, talk with him and getting to know him a lot better.”
The big thing we can decipher from our first couple of conversations with the GM is that any decision made will be designed to achieve one thing: being a championship football club in 2018. What better way to ring in both a new era for the franchise and send Buono into the sunset with a sixth championship as a CFL boss? Hervey says they aren’t as far away as many think.
“This ship isn’t going in the wrong direction. I believe there are a few things here and there that could have gone the Lions’ way and they could have easily been in the playoffs. This team is very close to being one of those contenders for next year. Four or five this year and they are in the postseason.”
Mark it down. A new era has officially begun.