A bold new vision, by a bold new board.
Bolstered by new blood that will see four directors leave and three new ones take over — David Asper won’t be one, just yet — the Winnipeg Blue Bombers board will take a significant step into the future tonight.
The club’s directors will get their first look at a new code of conduct governing the behaviour of all employees, including the head coach.
And, yes, the new code is a direct result of the public relations nightmare that was Mike Kelly’s one and only year in charge of the community-owned football team.
“It will be very strong,” incoming board chair Bill Watchorn said in a wide-ranging interview with the Sun, Tuesday. “Similar to what they’ve done in Saskatchewan. It’s a reference point and a guide of what’s expected. Anybody coming here, whether it’s a player or a coach or somebody that works for the Bombers or volunteers ... they’ll all have a code of conduct or standard of behaviour.”
Acknowledging it was sparked by “some of the activities that occurred over the past year, two years,” Watchorn said the code is long overdue.
It’s also one of several significant changes coming to the inner workings of Winnipeg’s most cherished sports institution, changes led by the no-nonsense new board boss, who’ll officially take over his chair at tonight’s board meeting.
Watchorn says the board’s monitoring of the organization loosened up over the years, and it’s time to tighten the reins.
“I don’t think the reporting was as thorough and as robust as it should be,” he said. “The board as a whole probably didn’t have adequate operating information all the time. And you get kind of lazy in that regard, and then when things happen everybody’s surprised. I learned a long time ago... surprises are only for birthday parties.”
From now on, the head of the team’s football operation, currently general manager Joe Mack, will report regularly to the board, something former GM Brendan Taman never did.
In the past, president/CEO Lyle Bauer was the only one answerable to the directors.
If that sounds like a board that’ll be more hands-on, it’s not, Watchorn said.
Now that the new management and football people are in place, the board will let them do their jobs.
“I see the board being hands-off,” he said. “We’ll hold management accountable for performance, we’ll monitor that. We will not do it for them. And if they don’t measure up, we’ll have to replace them.”
Watchorn says the new board will provide guidance and strategic direction, not tell the president, GM or head coach what to do.
“I don’t think we have any loose cannons on our board,” he said.
Asper, whose infamous post-game confrontation with head coach Jim Daley in 2005 cost him his board spot, won’t regain a seat until all the paperwork on his new stadium deal is signed, likely in early May.
And if Asper can’t repay his $75 million stadium loan to the province, the Bomber board is prepared to keep operating the team, long-term — led by Watchorn, 66, a product of Toronto who used to sell soda pop at Argos games so he could get into the old Varsity Stadium.
Moving here in 1977, he worked for Izzy Asper at CanWest, the start of a long career in the venture capital industry.
The man behind the Ensis Corporation and the Ensis Growth Fund, the self-described deal-maker has held Bomber season tickets for some 15 years, joining the board three years ago.
“I don’t pretend to know football,” he said, admitting he’s a little in awe of his new post as chair. “But I sure need to have good football guys on the board.
“I bring business acumen. I’m very experienced in board matters. I can pick good guys and avoid bad guys. That’s the essence of business.”