Former zookeeper now new commish

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

Typical of the CFL, the conference call to announce the 12th commissioner, who should have been in the job at least 13 weeks ago, started 14 minutes late.

And obviously a ring master wasn't available. So they picked the zookeeper.

"It'll be a huge help," offered Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young of the item in the background of Mark Cohon, the new CFL commissioner.

"In high school, in Toronto, I was a zookeeper looking after everything from polar bears to orangutans," confessed Cohon.

The polar bear in Cohon's new zoo is Edmonton Eskimos CEO Rick LeLacheur, who was a member of the search committee to replace Tom Wright after he was run off by B.C. owner David Brailey and Montreal owner Bob Wettenhall.

QUESTIONS

So who is this guy? And why might he succeed where few have succeeded before him?

Surely they didn't hire this guy because they thought they could expand the McDonald's Fun Zones.

When you're looking at the son of multi-millionaire McDonald's Canada founder George Cohon, the man who took McDonald's to Moscow and wrote a book (To Russia With Fries) about it, you should be concerned about the silver spoon factor.

LeLacheur admitted that might have been a concern in the beginning. But not as they went along.

"In my case, every time I met him, he grew on me. That's what got me in the end. The biggest thing he has, to me, is a passion for the CFL. And it's real.

"He's well connected in corporate Canada and should be a real help in the Ontario region. The stronger those teams are, the stronger the CFL is going to be.

"His age, at 41, definitely helps the demographics," added the Eskimo boss.

As a rule, you don't expect much with CFL commissioners. There's always the question of why anybody would take the job in the first place, and why they're even available.

Clearly this guy doesn't need the money.

And, while he was hardly high up in those organizations, previous employment with major league baseball and the NBA doesn't hurt. There will be no major learning curves here.

"I am so excited," Cohon began after he was introduced with the announcement that he was a unanimous selection, and had been given a five-year contract.

"I am absolutely thrilled about this opportunity and look forward to leading one of Canada's oldest and most treasured traditions.

"Very few times in life do chances like this come up and I can't wait to get started.

"The CFL is one of Canada's great brands," he said, but quickly added "and great games."

SAID RIGHT THINGS

He said all the right things, although he used the word "brand" over and over again, and phrases like "it's an evolution not a revolution" -which might be disturbing to the fans who wear watermelons on their heads.

"I think everything I've done in my career has really helped - major league baseball, working with David Stern in the NBA and learning to build a brand.

"I love this game, I watch it on TV and go to games. I love this country.

"The CFL is such a part of the Canadian identity. I can't wait to be the steward of this game in Canada for the next five years."

Born in Chicago, Cohon holds American citizenship, but says he's all Canadian.

"Canada is my home. I moved here when I was two years old.

"When I backpacked through Europe, this was the flag on my backpack," he said.

Like an American has never done that before?

But like the, er, brand of hamburger which made his dad rich, his son is a multi-national.

He's lived and worked in five countries and been exposed to sports cultures and marketing in all of them.

I think he has a chance to be successful, mostly because Tom Wright paved the path before him.

But the rule of thumb when it comes to CFL commissioners is to be real careful about getting too optimistic when they're introduced.


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