Was Wright wrong choice?

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

The future for Tom Wright as the commissioner of the Canadian Football League beyond this year does not look good.

Later today, the league's board of governors will debate whether to extend his contract, which expires after this season, or begin the process of finding a replacement.

Wright reportedly has asked for -- and been denied -- an extension on his current three-year contract.

"Right now I've focused more on doing my job than trying to campaign for it," he told The Fan 590 yesterday while vacationing in France.

But how confident should he be, anyway? This is an individual whose official hiring had to be put on hold for one day -- which forced him to sit tight in a hotel room, practically like a prisoner -- while the league and its lawyers hammered out a deal.

The day he was hired, the announcement took place in a tiny room instead of the spacious one that had been booked for his coronation, and the media had a field day explaining the latest folly of the league.

Now the board, which sent Iron Mike Lysko packing a season and a half into his three-year contract as commissioner because he dared to rule with a clenched fist and talk with a coarse tongue, has his successor in a holding pattern.

Unlike Lysko, Wright has come across as Tom Terrific -- as if everything is okay. He has steadfastly refused to say anything negative or controversial about the affairs of the league, preferring to preach the positive aspects such as increases in attendance, sponsorship and television ratings and the prospect of expansion. He has learned to speak French and even sang the national anthem -- in both languages -- with one of his daughters before a game.

But if everything is so great, why isn't the board keen on keeping him on for another term?

"I take a look at the past 2 1/2 years and they certainly have been challenging. But I think in every case we've emerged successfully from a lot of those challenges and we find ourselves in a much stronger position today than certainly we were 1 1/2 years ago," he said. "My focus will be to continue to work responsibly and professionally and represent all nine clubs because that's ultimately what I'm paid to do. This is what normally happens in leagues with commissioners and in companies that go through contract negotiations and it's not like this has just happened in the last couple weeks. This has been going on for several months."

Now it's being played out in public and likely is headed toward a quick conclusion because it can't be allowed to drag on indefinitely. If the decision is made to move on to someone else, a search must begin immediately.

The mess in Ottawa with the Renegades' feuding owners and talk of a hard salary cap with no apparent resolution are indictments of Wright's leadership.

CREDIT

While he received credit for securing owners for Toronto and Hamilton when the Argos and Tiger-Cats fell into receivership midway into the 2003 season -- his first in the league -- it had more to do with others. B.C. Lions owner David Braley played a significant role in securing new Ticats owner Bob Young. In Toronto, Wright united Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, who separately were looking at buying into the Argos during Sherwood Schwarz's final season. No one from the board stepped up to take credit, allowing Wright to be seen as the saviour. Now the word is he lacks strong leadership.

Why Wright chose to go on vacation now -- while there are issues that need immediate attention and his presence -- is curious. While he may have access to faxes, cellphones and the like, it simply doesn't look good. And the fact he's away while his future is being decided is awfully coincidental.

He'll be back next week, but it appears it may only be long enough to hand out the Grey Cup at the end of the season. There has been a continuous cycle of commissioners in the CFL in recent years, each with different styles.

If the CFL decides it has had enough of Wright -- and again the signals are pointing in that direction -- then it's on to someone new.


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