Wright's the wrong man

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

This past Sunday, as the Canadian Football League board of directors huddled in a room to discuss the fate of the Ottawa Renegades, commissioner Tom Wright passed by a reporter and asked how he was doing.

"I've had better days," the reporter lamented.

The same could be said for Wright.

It's becoming increasingly apparent that Wright's better days are behind him.

His grand visions for the CFL -- cost controls in the form of a salary management system to ensure competitive balance; expanding from nine to 10 teams; increasing sponsorships and building the brand; and growing the game through technological streams appealing to a younger generation -- might end up becoming nothing more than wishful thinking by a person who won't be around to finish what he started.

Wright has become the fall guy for the demise of the Ottawa Renegades -- whether or not he is personally to blame is a subject that can be debated ad nauseum -- and it is sad to see him trying to save face.

He has been doing just that since the day he was hired. The announcement was delayed by one day because of some legal wrangling, which forced him to sit in his room as per his future employer's demands. Instead of being ushered into a grand ballroom as was the original plan, he made his debut the following day in a compact room.

He talked with excitement and passion, including his desire to learn French so he could truly be a bilingual leader. His evolution saw him sing the national anthem at one game with one of his daughters and availing himself to fans.

But somehow he never fully endeared himself to the key power-brokers among the board of governors, which quietly knocked his leadership. He sought a long-term contract extension last year after his initial three-year term, but received only an added year.

He could have -- should have -- walked away with his dignity, but he stubbornly believed he could make a difference. Now that the Renegades have collapsed -- and it may only be for a year -- Wright has been forced to face the bullets.

The board of governors voted almost unanimously last spring to allow Bernie and Lonie Glieberman back into the league as custodians of a team they had owned once before and turned into a laughing-stock. But Wright's detractors blamed him for allowing the situation with the previous owners to fester as long as it did, putting the franchise in peril and putting the Gliebermans back in the picture.

After the board decided to sack the Renegades, Wright delivered the devastating news. Once again the board made the decision -- this time it was unanimous -- while Wright merely became the messenger. The board should have been beside him, even if he was the only voice, as a sign of unity and support. Instead, Wright was literally and figuratively alone, while the board scattered to return home.

Few members of the media attended the announcement because the CFL did not publicize the location of the historic meeting nor the possibility major news might be forthcoming. Not all news can be good news, but why be so secretive?

Then again, earlier this year the board and Wright met in Arizona to put together a 14-point plan for a salary management system. The plan was revealed the following day in a conference call, which was a huge mistake. Something as significant as changing the constitution should have been done in Canada to gain maximum coverage.

The CFL has survived much worse than the loss of a team. It faced financial ruin in the mid-90s, but overcame it. And as much as Wright keeps talking about growth in attendance, sponsorship, viewership and the like, the CFL is what it is: A Canadian institution that has been around for almost 100 years, through good times and bad, because the product on the field is good and it's part of the fabric of our land.

As for Wright, he's a good guy working in a job with absolutely no upside now and his reputation has been tarnished. He should realize there's no shame in leaving.


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