Wright man for job

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

Watching CFL commissioner Tom Wright bound onto the podium to face the media at a local hotel yesterday, you'd swear the guy had just been given a lucrative, new contract extension.

No such luck, though.

After the CFL board of governors annual meeting here, Wright remains the lame-duck commissioner, on the final year of his contract, with no new one in sight.

And I can't for the life of me figure out why.

In my years of watching the CFL, Wright is easily one of the best leaders the three-down game has had.

OK, so that's not saying much.

But not once has Wright snuck out of a board of governors meeting through a hotel kitchen just to duck the media (where are you, Larry Smith?)

Not once has he gotten all liquored up just before presenting the Grey Cup (have another one, Donald Crump).

Nor has he gone on a power trip and tried to ram his ideas down the throats of the people who hired him (come on down, Mike Lysko).

All Wright has done the last three years is guide the CFL through some of its most prosperous times in years.

Yesterday, he could proudly claim to be at the helm when the league officially adopted its first real salary cap, no mean feat in a group made up of penny-pinching, community-owned teams like Saskatchewan and Winnipeg and well-heeled, private ones like Toronto, B.C. and Montreal.

That's like trying to gain consensus at a convention of world religions.

"It's something we've been fighting for for five years," Blue Bomber chairman Ken Hildahl said. "We're just elated. We finally put a system in place that looks like it can work."

The new salary management system -- first adopted in January but derailed briefly over some technicalities -- isn't the only feather in Wright's cap, but it's certainly the brightest.

Attendance, TV ratings and corporate sponsorship have all climbed since the former Adidas man stepped into the commish's cleats in November, 2002.

All this, while a new franchise was born, then died, (Ottawa), two went bankrupt and changed hands (Toronto and Hamilton) and another went through a stormy ownership change (Calgary).

"That's four teams -- pretty much half the league has changed ownership," Blue Bomber president/CEO Lyle Bauer was saying. "Some in very difficult circumstances. And the thing's pretty strong."

Trouble is, at least two owners -- B.C.'s David Braley and Bob Wetenhall of Montreal -- want to get rid of the guy.

Thankfully, they don't have nearly enough support (six of eight governors) to dump him now.

Reports of an imminent showdown yesterday were obviously overblown, as Wright emerged from some eight hours of meetings with nary a flesh wound.

That's the one issue Wright tried to side-step, telling reporters his future wasn't even on the agenda.

But it was certainly discussed.

And will continue to be until the end of the season, when his contract is up.

The sad truth is there might not be six governors who'll vote to extend the deal at the end of the season, either.

And that'd be mistake.

You can't win in this job, it seems. It's like trying to feed eight different animals with the same food.

Yes, Wright has some blood on his hands from the Ottawa fiasco. Turning that franchise over to the Gliebermans last year was akin to handing it a death sentence.

Don't forget, though, that decision was made by the same eight men who sat around the table yesterday.

"If that's a cross he has to bear, I don't think it's a cross he should be bearing alone," Bauer said. "That was a decision that was voted on."

Time has proven they blew that one.

They've still got a chance to get this one Wright.


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