Return of the Gliebermans

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

Lonie Glieberman realized a dream yesterday. A dream to be back in the CFL.

"I always planned on it," he said before league governors voted to approve transfer of ownership in the Renegades to a newly formed partnership of Lonie's father, Bernie Glieberman, and original team co-owner Bill Smith.

"In 1996, when (U.S.) expansion ended, I knew I'd be back one day. I just didn't know when. I said ideally, it would be great to go back to Ottawa and succeed there. I was familiar with the area ... and I wanted to fix what went wrong."

For the Gliebermans, what what went wrong was 1993.

Like now, they had saved pro football a little more than two

years earlier, after an exasperated local ownership group became fed up with losing money and games and bailed on the franchise. The Rough Riders were left in the hands of the league -- and perhaps within months of their demise -- when Bernie Glieberman arrived from Detroit to purchase the team.

SEMI-FINAL PLAYOFF LOSS

The next year, with the Gliebermans in control from the outset, the Riders compiled their first .500 season since 1978. The 9-9 record was followed by a semi-final playoff loss in Hamilton, but also a believe that the team was on its way back to the glory days.

However, a number of poor decisions derailed plans prior to the start of the 1993 campaign. Prodded by the cost-cutting demands of newly hired CEO John Ritchie, GM Dan Rambo traded all-star offensive tackle Rob Smith and all-time CFL interception leader Less Browne to the B.C. Lions. Then, when Ritchie and Rambo clashed, the Gliebermans fired their GM on the eve of training camp. It was, Lonie would say later, the biggest mistake the team made under his watch.

Others would argue that distinction belongs to the resurrection of Dexter Manley. A former NFL sack king, Manley was battling a drug addiction when the Riders signed him to generate pressure on the quarterback and publicity for the team.

Used sparingly in 1992, he was back the next year, as Lonie remained unconvinced Manley's days were done.

The coaching staff thought otherwise, however, and kept the rush end in civilian clothes until the team's struggles had it still looking for its second win of the season in August.

At that point the Gliebermans insisted Manley be given a chance, and two assistant coaches resigned upon learning they had been overruled. That one of them was locally grown, respected defensive line coach Jim Daly -- now the end coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders -- public sentiment turned on the Gliebermans.

MANY SQUABBLES WITH CITY

The 1993 season ended with four Ottawa wins and another of many squabbles with the city over a lease at Frank Clair Stadium. The Gliebermans, who had lost an estimated $1.7 million annually in Ottawa, ultimately packed up a few Louisiana-connected players and left for Shreveport to start up the Pirates, as part of U.S. expansion.

Two years later, with attendance dwindling and losses mounting to the $3.5 million a year range, the Gliebermans planned on relocating the Pirates to West Virginia -- but then U.S. expansion efforts were aborted altogether by the league.

All along, Bernie Glieberman ran Crosswinds Communities Inc., a leading residential building and development company of which he is president and sole shareholder. In most recent surveys, he was named the 68th biggest real estate developer in the U.S.

MOUNT BOHEMIA

Lonie later turned his attention to the ski resort industry, and has spent the past few years developing Mount Bohemia -- in upper peninsula Michigan -- into one of the fast growing, snowboarding and skiing destinations in the midwest.

"It is the only resort to ever institute a policy prohibiting beginners," said Lonie.

"Is it sometimes controversial? Yeah. Do we have the best customer rating? Yeah. If you're an expert skier or snowboarder, it's the best place to come, by far. "

And still, his desire to get back into the football businesses never waned.

When asked about the way he'd run the Renegades if he had a chance, Lonie talked of "simplifying" the organization and "being focused." He disputes the notion that translates into a bare bones operation.

"We won't do things that don't make it a better experience for the fans, or help win games," he said.

"Our plan is to restore the team to success, win championships, fill the stadium and make people happy."

don.brennan@ott.sunpub.com


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