October 13, 2012
Glieberman reflects on running Ottawa's CFL team
By TIM BAINES, QMI Agency
Years removed from bare boobs being flashed at Frank Clair Stadium, from the controversial signing of Dexter Manley, from trying to sign Mike Ditka and bring in Jesse Palmer as the Rough Riders QB, from being the poster-boy for what was wrong with the CFL in Ottawa, Lonie Glieberman is alive and well.
He’s 44, not looking much older than the 23-year-old babyfaced kid who once pissed off the players so much, they screamed obscenities at him in a team meeting.
Glieberman runs Mt. Bohemia, a ski resort in the northernmost part of Michigan. He calls it the largest, toughest ski resort in the midwest. Lonie is well-spoken and honest. He pulls no punches and has few regrets.
He’s been married for four years to 29-year-old Lindsey Bobay, who attended Northern Michigan University on a diving scholarship. He runs every morning with his two dogs, Bo, a three-year-old beagle boxer/samoyed mix and Ben, a 10-year-old beagle.
“We’re (Ben’s) seventh family,” said Glieberman. “He has a bit of a howling problem. We run him three or four miles and he howls a lot.”
His dad, Bernie, is still running Crosswinds Communities, as a builder.
The Gliebermans were both football saviours and franchise killers. They had teams here in 1992-93 and 2005, but bailed for Shreveport, La., in 1994 and folded the Renegades in 2006.
“You don’t like to be unsuccessful. Some people are always going to blame me, put things on me,” said Glieberman. “I had a lot of learning to do. You don’t know how much you don’t know until you know.
“At 23, I didn’t have the experience.
“I didn’t succeed, we failed ... so I deserve to be criticized. We made a bunch of mistakes. But it’s an unfair criticism that we drove the team into the ground.”
Bernie bought the Rough Riders for a buck in 1991, assuming $1 million in debt. The team finished 9-9 in 1992, sliding to 4-14 in 1993.
Glieberman said there are plenty of misconceptions and untruths about him and the team.
“We didn’t draft a dead player. That was another owner,” he said. “My wife is not a cheerleader. Yes, I did date a cheerleader when I was in Ottawa, but 15 years later, they still say I date cheerleaders.”
He has few regrets, sticking by the decision to bring banished NFL star Manley to Ottawa and the much-ridiculed Mardi Gras promotion, sort of Girls Gone Wild come north, where ladies sitting in the south-side upper-deck stands were encouraged to bare their boobs in return for beads. The girl with the most beads was given $1,000.
“Mardi Gras was a good decision,” said Glieberman. “A survey of more than 4,000 people showed that only 20% were offended by Mardi Gras. It was a fun promotion. The upper deck was virtually sold out and once we cancelled it, the upper deck was only half full. If you wanted to avoid it, you could sit in 18,000 other seats.”
Then there was Manley.
“Dexter plays three games (in 1992) and we’re 2-1. Then Dexter gets benched (for the rest of the season). I didn’t interfere with the coaches. It seemed like a bit of an extreme thing ... Dexter was the premiere pass rusher in the NFL. He wasn’t dominant, but he wasn’t horrible (in Ottawa). If you brought in Roger Clemens and in his last three games, he sucked, you might give him a few more chances in the rotation.
“(The next season), the team was 2-9 before Dexter played a game. While I OK’d the Rob Smith-Less Browne trade ... the trade still haunts me ... it wasn’t like the idea originated from ownership. We traded away some of our best players, so I thought, ‘What have we got to lose by giving (Dexter) a chance?’ The trade got very little scrutiny. All we hear about is Dexter Manley.”
Glieberman wishes he could have a do-over on a decision to dump GM Dan Rambo in 1993.
“Making the decision to let Dan go was a bizarre haphazard decision made on the spur of the moment,” said Glieberman. “I got pulled out of a wedding. My dad and John Ritchie sat me down and said they were looking to make a change. The information we were getting was that our key scout, Mike MacCagnan, wanted to quit and the football ops people were upset. We fired Dan and as it turns out Mike wasn’t frustrated. We made a major decision on the eve of training camp without making sure the information was correct.”
The next season, an offer to start up a franchise in Shreveport was too sweet to turn down. The Pirates stayed alive for two seasons.
The Gliebermans got back into the CFL game, in Ottawa, in 2005. At the end of another bad season, coach Joe Paopao was fired and John Jenkins hired.
The negativity just kept piling up.
“We didn’t know why guys like John Jenkins and Forrest Gregg were being criticized,” said Glieberman. “These were good football people. It was frustrating.”
Glieberman thought Palmer would be a good fit in a Rough Riders uniform, approaching the NFLer’s agent late in 2005.
“We got criticized for not giving Chris Flynn a chance in 1992,” said Glieberman. “Then I go after Jesse and I get criticized again. I wanted Jesse to energize the fan base. But Forrest didn’t want him. Him and John wanted Kerry Joseph. So as much as ownership wanted Jesse Palmer, the coaches wanted Kerry. We compromised and got Kerry signed to a five-year deal and that way we had a guy we could invest in and market.”
He also wonders why there were snickers over talks with Ditka, the legendary Chicago Bears coach.
“That was serious, it wasn’t a joke. We met with him and his agent,” said Glieberman. “We’re getting criticized for trying to hire Mike Ditka and we don’t get criticized for hiring Ron Smeltzer?”
With criticism mounting, Glieberman, with pressure from Bernie and his partner, Bill Smith, stepped down as president in February of 2006.
“My dad would listen to the call-in shows, he’d listen to the angry callers. Then I got a call from him (March 1), telling me they had decided they weren’t going to do it anymore. It totally caught me off-guard. They had talked to a guy who told them the team would lose another $20 million before it broke even. My dad and Bill just didn’t see the long-term upside.”
Through it all, Glieberman, who won a countersuit for more than $200,000 against the City of Ottawa after he bolted for Shreveport, has a strong allegiance to the CFL ... and this city.
“The CFL is a great league and I’m very proud I was part of it,” he said. “I hope people don’t hate me. The biggest problem was not that people were pissed with me, not enough people cared about whether the team won or lost.
“(The current ownership group) has the best opportunity to be successful. It’s a smart lease for the city, for the taxpayers and for ownership.”
It just won’t be the same without Lonie — especially for newspaper writers and headline writers.