Why CFL commissioner Jeffery Orridge got the boot

When CFL commissioner Jeffery Orridge was hired in April of 2015, one of the interesting tidbits about him was his penchant for quoting Jay Z lyrics in his public appearances. Unfortunately for him – and the league – his shortened tenure will be remembered as more “99 Problems” than “Holy Grail” (those are both Jay Z songs.)

Orridge and the CFL agreed to “part ways” on Wednesday with the commissioner leaving his position on June 30. Orridge was two years into a three-year contract and the last commissioner, Mark Cohon, stayed for eight, so this is both parties acknowledging what pretty much everybody around the league had come to understand: that Orridge was a bad fit for the CFL. At least this way, everyone gets to save at least a little face.

With a background in TV – Orridge was executive director at CBC Sports – as well as time with Reebok and USA Basketball, Orridge’s hiring made some sense at the time. An American by birth, Orridge didn’t seem to have much by the way of football or CFL knowledge but that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. He was personable enough and talked a good game about growing the CFL with a younger audience using social media and digital platforms. The rest, it was assumed, he’d learn on the fly.

Except he didn’t. Orridge never seemed to grasp the unique nature of the CFL with its regional nuances and inherently grassroots appeal. The league lives in an odd space between big boy professional league and quaint provincial enterprise, its players doing both flashy TSN photo shoots and interacting with fans on a personal level. That inherent dichotomy is what both holds the league back and makes it great.

Orridge paid lip service to those concepts but never really absorbed them on a cellular level the way he needed to and the way his predecessor did. Cohon may have worn $300 jeans and a watch worth more than Argonaut season tickets but he understood the value of a guy in a watermelon helmet. Fans liked Cohon but never warmed to Orridge.

Of course, popularity isn’t necessarily a key competency for a sports commissioner (see Bettman, Gary and Goodell, Roger.) But without the support of the masses, keeping the bosses happy becomes paramount – Bettman and Goodell have flourished by making owners a boatload of money. And things have not gone particularly well for the CFL of late.

Attendance has dropped in each of the two seasons under Orridge and television ratings are down almost 20 per cent from where they were in 2013. The situation in Toronto – one of Orridge’s stated priorities – remains as bleak as ever and the city’s 2016 Grey Cup was marred by a series of increasingly embarrassing ticket giveaways. Not all these things can be blamed on Orridge, of course, but confidence in his ability to fix them had clearly waned.

Then there were the blunders of his doing. Orridge’s first state-of-the-league address was an unmitigated disaster – “unbelievably uneducated in many areas and as mostly evasive on others,” said one scribe – while his second featured a tone-deaf denial of a link between playing in the CFL and developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which led to widespread criticism.

The league went an entire season without drug testing after Orridge got into a petty and unnecessary squabble with the Canadian Centre of Ethics in Sport (and ultimately came crawling back.) Concerns around officiating, the rollout of the new logo, the handling of various Saskatchewan-related controversies… Orridge never seemed comfortable in the role or particularly deft at dealing with its challenges.

There were positives, of course. The CFL has been proactive in its approach to social and digital media and has worked hard to recruit younger fans – something the league has long struggled with. Its launch of CFL Week, which grouped several off-season events into a fan-and-media-friendly package, was a clear winner. That wasn’t nearly enough.

With Orridge moving on, there will be plenty of speculation on a possible replacement. It will be interesting to see if the board of governors, having been burned by a football neophyte with law degree, opts for a more well-known figure or one with a background in the game. Among the names already being floated: current vice-president of football Glen Johnson and former Argonaut great Michael “Pinball” Clemons. There will be others, to be sure.

With Orridge on his way out, the CFL gets a chance to reset its direction once again. Rather a New Yorker with a penchant for Jay-Z, the league may want to consider someone with an affinity for Drake (or the Hip or the Sheepdogs or the Arkells) – an innovator in his own right but with a unique understanding of what it means to be Canadian.

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
Drew Edwards
Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1392 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

73 Comments on Why CFL commissioner Jeffery Orridge got the boot

  1. Chris Jones // April 12, 2017 at 3:24 pm //

    Please, please, please, not Glen Johnson.

  2. Mr Edwards – I do agree with your comments , like Mr. Cohon , because of the uniqueness of th CFL , the commish needs to be widely seen in the stands ( game days ) , just my quirk !

  3. Stuart Murray // April 12, 2017 at 3:33 pm //

    Great recap Drew
    ..met the man at BMO as a Ticat fan and found him to be very engaging…however I agree with you…he never “got” the CFL…along with too many other people in Toronto !!


  4. Jim Harvie // April 12, 2017 at 3:42 pm //

    Did you say Pinball? I’m down with that.

  5. Scottsask // April 12, 2017 at 4:24 pm //

    Not sure what Pinball’s background is beyond football, but there’s no doubt that you wouldn’t find a more enthusiastic human being. His only blemish may still would be the apathy torontonians have towards the Argos while he was involved with the organization. Not his fault though, you can’t make people care.

  6. Scottsask // April 12, 2017 at 4:25 pm //

    Sorry folks that last statement came out a jumbled mess.

  7. Christopher // April 12, 2017 at 4:27 pm //

    The CFL needs a commissioner that has balls to do the job that no one else wants to do… and if you were happy with Cohon’s kissing Babies and drinking beer with fans… great but that did nothing for the future of our league… Orridge created a Drug policy with teeth, he created policy to prevent future pillaging of management staff by other teams (Something long needed), Orridge finally stopped the ridiculous abuse of the bylaws by the Regina franchise… something that has been going on for far too long… Created a partnership with the NFL to improve officiating, Formed an alliance with EA Games to elevate the CFL profile to the younger generations… He also rebranded the league to appeal to the younger generations….. Orridge brought this team into the 21st century… Jeffery Orridge was the best commissioner that this league has had in decades… and if people cannot see that… well, hope you enjoy your league as it drops back into obscurity…

    • Puck Hog // April 12, 2017 at 7:26 pm //

      Christopher, are you a relative of Orridge? And yes, I was happy with Cohon drinking beer with fans and wearing watermelon hats. You think Orridge came up with a smart plan to impede staff from going to different teams? He didn’t have to do anything in that regard, as there was already a mechanism in place to deal with this – it’s called a contract, with which teams are not to meddle unless permission is given. Pretty simple, isn’t it? And what did he do to give you the impression he rebranded the league for younger fans?? By using social media? Wow, that’s a novel idea! Orridge is a dud; good riddance!

  8. Glen Johnson are you kidding me, I am a life long fan, and for the first time in 35 years I thought about giving up on the CFL this Idiot who is the Head of Officiating is a F—ing Joke if he gets the Job I am cancelling my season tickets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. George McGee // April 12, 2017 at 4:44 pm //

    Hey, Christopher Orridge ! how’s it going man? Just give us back our old Logo, not the one Jeffery’s daughter designed.

  10. Elmsley Forsyth // April 12, 2017 at 4:47 pm //

    The best paragraph of your years spent writing about the CFL:
    “Orridge paid lip service to those concepts but never really absorbed them on a cellular level the way he needed to and the way his predecessor did. Cohon may have worn $300 jeans and a watch worth more than Argonaut season tickets but he understood the value of a guy in a watermelon helmet. Fans liked Cohon but never warmed to Orridge”.

  11. Lindsay Wilcox // April 12, 2017 at 4:52 pm //

    My vote = (absolutely 0 value) = Pinball

    • Dan Bombers // April 12, 2017 at 5:24 pm //

      Don’t be so hard on yourself Lindsey there’s value to that statement pinball would be great for our league i

      • CFLRheal // April 18, 2017 at 6:11 am //

        He can – should – market the CFL aggressively to the young adults that got swayed to watch NFL.

    • Billinburlington // April 12, 2017 at 10:54 pm //

      Pinball knows the sport and the game… not too sure about the business side and he is too nice a guy. One thought might be CFL fan and former PM Stephen Harper- good name recognition but no CFL experience on the player or owner side… David Bradley would be another good name… although he would have to sell his Lions team pdq and I’m not sure he’d want the job at this stage of his career. How about Glen Grunwald…he knows the sports industry. J.C Watts is out of US politics…. would Bob O’Billovich have an interest perhaps as an interim?

  12. mrnehnehincognito // April 12, 2017 at 4:54 pm //

    I like the logo..Its minimal and appeals to contemporary taste. What do want? The old 1 bar helmet with the maple leaf in it? That’s the problem. Everyone wants to think back never forward.

  13. With apologies to Jeffery’s brother Christopher above. He did do some things right. However it really is another two year failed American Experiment (see mid 1990’s CFL Expansion). If I had to hear the story of how Canada let’s a person get a job on merit and not because of their race again I was going to vomit. Not because it wasn’t/isn’t true but because that’s all he had to relate about his prior CFL experience

    • mrnehnehincognito // April 12, 2017 at 5:11 pm //

      The “failed” American experiment as you say was in fact a necessity. It gave the league an infusion of money it had to have to survive. Besides that the league gave us the Montreal Alouettes back and notable players like Mike Pringle and Anthony Calvillo

    • The logo is boring. It’s minimal alright. There’s nothing to it. Any high school art class could come up with something a lot better.

  14. Who the hell is JayZ???
    Please, no Glen Johnson for Commish! Pinball, Glen Suitor or Doug Brown would be my top 3 choices.

  15. Can’t be Glen Johnson. Can’t be, can’t be, can’t be. Please look for a track record of success.

  16. We fans have been calling for Orridge to be fired for at least a year now… so now that it’s really happened let’s not make another blunder and hire an equally unqualified replacement…

    I know many people love Pinball.. and yeah he’s a great guy and probably Toronto’s best cheerleader… but not sure what organizational and leadership skills he would bring…

    Without much research into the potential candidates I have a suggestion…

    Let’s hire a former CFL player who might also have the business acumen to do the job… like maybe Jock Climie…

    Ok… before all you TSN panel haters go bananas… let’s consider that Climie is a CFL veteran, a regular CFL analyst on TSN and a practicing lawyer… plus for s bonus I believe he’s also bilingual…

    Yep… he would get my vote…

  17. Bernie, that’s a great list!

  18. Snake, Jock might be a good fit but I’d minimize the lawyering part and try to emphasize the creative part of the job.

  19. Scottsask // April 12, 2017 at 5:44 pm //

    You’ve got a great point Snake. He’s likely the most qualified person of all the names mentioned.

  20. Jimmy Breslin // April 12, 2017 at 6:04 pm //

    Well I will get lambasted for this but I also agree that someone with Jock Climie’s background might work but definitely NOT Pinball Clemons. As nice a fellow as he may be he likely has zero experience dealing in money matters. For this league to survive and thrive it must negotiate an even better deal next time with whichever network wants to step up and write a large check, and don’t kid yourself the CFL is an attractive package to these people. Clemons is an Argos pied piper, a cheerleader, a nice man, but certainly no seasoned negotiator. Sorry for all his fans out there but he would be a completely inappropriate choice for Commissioner.

  21. Jim Sutherland // April 12, 2017 at 6:14 pm //

    The first mistake by Orridge was extending the TV agreement with TSN and not forcing its parent company to broadcast more games on CTV network in the agreement. The CFL is now strictly a cable network in a new era of cord-cutters and it is a disgrace to not show the playoffs and Grey Cup game on a non-cable network. The TSN monopoly has meant less flexibility in game schedules and no competition to force TSN to upgrade their broadcasts. The TSN on-air product is brutal and the games have been extended by too many penalties and reviews. Much of the game’s flow has been lost under Orridge’s watch and he should have been fired for this reason alone. A mutual parting of the ways also works for me.

    • Jimmy Breslin // April 12, 2017 at 6:34 pm //

      Interesting points Jim I share your sense of outrage about this but the tv landscape is changing by the day and my sense is that a product as good and as proven as the CFL can and will be shopped around if the league gets smart and hires the right person. There are just too many broadcasting options out there now, multiple platforms, not to be able to command more money and more visibility the next time around. They need to hire smart.

    • Dan Bombers // April 12, 2017 at 9:50 pm //

      Great comment Jim i agree with everything you said

  22. I wanted Orrington out so badly for the last season.

    He almost took the joy out of looking forward to the new season.
    Going through another season with him would have taken a lot of fun out of the game.

    Removing Austin from the sidelines last year still infuriates me. It was belittling, insulting and still demands an apology.

    The man is petty and resentful.

    As a Ticat fan who had to live with last year’s officiating and replays especially at the end of the season when bad mistakes cost us first place I say Get Rid of Johnson and his buddy Jake Ireland too.

    Make the game fair and fun again.

  23. I really really like our new logo.Its immediately recognizable, simple and unique. Don’t know about the inner happenings with Orridge and the CFL but I sure love the logo.

  24. Here’s a name that I hope gets consideration and/or applies – Duane Forde.

  25. Pinball…sure, why not. 🙂

  26. The league announcement on Orridge’s firing was typical sickening corporate gobbledigook. Climie for Commish? That’s all we need; an anti-Hamilton commissioner.

  27. George McGee // April 12, 2017 at 7:22 pm //

    Robert says “I really really like our new logo.Its immediately recognizable, simple and unique”… well Robert so was the old one, but it didn’t look like it was designed by a 5th grader.

  28. mrnehnehincognito // April 12, 2017 at 8:10 pm //

    Wow. If only the logo was the biggest problem this league had!

    • Billinburlington // April 12, 2017 at 11:01 pm //

      LOL. One would think that after reading all these comments.!

      No one would last long as commissioner with fans quibbling over the logo as much as being regurgitated here.

  29. Orridge never got this league. Someone should have told him at that first presser that true CFL fans pronounce it Jay-Zed.

  30. Sounds like the board of directors wants a YES MAN. Sometimes TOUGH DECISIONS have to be made regardless of what the league or local team may want. A YES MAN will be a disaster for the league no matter what side of the border he comes from.

  31. kaptain beyond // April 12, 2017 at 9:41 pm //

    new logo sucks. all the other pro sports leagues haven’t changed their logo in 5 decades. the CFL has changed its 3 times. the sign of a lost organization. after reading this article i have to wonder why the heck they hired this guy? in the end he was hired to market the league to the kids and usa. i think the CFL should be happy with what it is and not try to compete with everything around it. it’ll do fine if its ambitions are as modest as its story has been for 100 years now.

    • Captain Argonaut // April 13, 2017 at 2:45 pm //

      Kaptain beyond…the NHL changed their logo about 25 years ago, albeit very slightly. I’ll agree with you however, Mr. Orridge did some good things on the marketing side and I think that all CFL fans who are looking forward should be happy with this. Let’s hope the next commish can build on the successes that were achieved.

  32. Sure glad the posters on this blog will have no say in who the league governors will hire as commissioner…

  33. Virginia // April 12, 2017 at 9:54 pm //

    Never warmed to Orridge. Cohan was very likeable from a fan point of view. He would be giddy with excitement being on the field for the Grey Cup. The new commish needs to be just as likeable and excited about the game. Besides knowledgeable, firm but fair with decisions, have the back of players and owners and finally – admit when he or she is wrong. And fix it. BTW – if they do go outside the box and hire a woman, should be someone well seasoned.

  34. New commish will have his hands full. So much to do but improving or re-storing onfield product is a must. T.V. Ratings way down the past couple seasons for many reasons. Viewing habits for sure but the flow and length of the game turns many casual fans away. In my opinion, the majority of rule changes regarding infraction enforcements and reviews have taken away from the natural flow and excitement of the game. For this reason, Glen Johnson should not be a consideration. Mike Clemons in an excellent CFL ambassador but not sure about him becoming the commish. I think Duane Ford is the smartest football mind on TSN. He would be my choice as I feel like he would also expand coverage of CIS and make draft and off-season coverage more in depth and entertaining . He understands the game and appears to be a guy with some foreword thinking.

  35. rogieshan // April 12, 2017 at 10:26 pm //

    If he’s interested, Warren Moon would make a great commissioner of the CFL.

    • Billinburlington // April 12, 2017 at 11:12 pm //

      That’s a very intriguing name. Wiki says Warren Moon is into sports marketing in the US .. so he knows the player side and some of the business side… but your “if” is a big “IF”.

  36. Solara2000 // April 12, 2017 at 11:04 pm //

    Ok enough of the popularity contest. Let’s get someone with the leadership skills and understanding of the game; someone with the skill and the experience to influence across the strata of CFL stakeholders.

    • green rider // April 13, 2017 at 11:45 am //

      Very good comments Solara2000. Need someone who can ensure that the BoG vote for what is good for the whole league, not just their team. So has to be a good leader.
      They really need to understand the game & the fans who watch it.
      Imo, Johnson would be the worst person to hire! His new rules, which the BoG approved, have ruined the flow of the game. Instead of being excited when there’s a great play, fans are looking for a flag or waiting for a challenge. That has ruined the game & has turned a lot of fans off – they don’t go to the games or watch them. I put that on Johnson – & if he gets more control imo, he’ll make the game even worse!

  37. Evil Doctor // April 12, 2017 at 11:26 pm //

    I think a lot of you guys are confusing Glen Johnson who is VP of Football Operations and Jeff Harbin who is head of officiating. Harbin is the one that’s been screwing up, Johnson was the guy that publicly called the officiating out. He would be a better fit, that Pinball just the basis of experience.

  38. Ron Bates // April 12, 2017 at 11:51 pm //

    Good Gosh can we not get the Pinball stuck in our media’s craw out of the CFL fans present and future. The clown antics and last seasons Argo opener around ownership and past stars deemed it seems too big for this slightly rural on the fringe of hick league. Or does success from hard work in those fringe hick teams embarrass the big cities and their writers. If this is a challenge it isn’t but a craw is a craw and with Jeffrey Orridge displaying his smarts about the ides of march it seems he is not going to get a year 11 of Cohon / Orridge pact. Just when we get corporate and smart management we get good gosh a belief in antics because it is closer to the only image of the CFL that some have. As for Pinball I cast my vote no! As for the business of sport I cast my vote yes, as for recognizing every CEO needs a very smart executive to assist him as Michael Copeland did Mark Cohon I vote yes. I never loved a coach and never disrespected one either. Now as for the reasons people part ways, it’s corporate and business so they do. As for product lets try this, for our players it’s all on the field from practice to game, no practice and lousy game performance. A career covered in salaries and expense money plus bonuses leads to post playing benefits based on profiles and connections, not bad but it means nothing if you all end up at Christy Pits.

  39. Pinball. ‘Nuf said.

  40. Little background on Glen Johnson, he has an MBA in finance and marketing from U of Manitoba and a Science degree from U of Winnipeg, so he’s not just a dumb ref. Wouldn’t have a problem with him, Pinball, Forde, or Climie.

    • green rider // April 13, 2017 at 11:49 am //

      But he doesn’t understand how the rule changes have ruined the flow of the game. And he doesn’t understand how frustrated the fans are with the choppiness of the game. Can’t automatically celebrate a great play as pretty good chance that there will be another darn penalty!

  41. Glenn Chernick // April 13, 2017 at 1:49 pm //

    Agree with your comments, he wasn’t a good fit. The first red flag for me was being head of CBC sports when they lost HNIC revenue, Major League Baseball & did nothing with the CFL. The double speak he did in the state of CFL address in 15 plus the boring logo he spearheaded, the man is a dial tone… need a stronger personality for commish

  42. Ottawa Rough Rider/Redblack supporter // April 13, 2017 at 2:10 pm //

    Congrats, Orridge is GONE!
    Orridge was from the CBC as was Geo. Strombo. Both are gone. The NHL is having a wonderful year. Hope the replacement of the CFL Commish will result in a stellar year. Now, the existing game needs revisions: speed up the game; improve the officiating by replacing those who call infractions that are “whimsical” and influence the score. Removing Johnson and Harbin would be an intelligent step in the right direction. Why not “rotate” talent from clubs from across this nation? A special change would be the replacement or at least consideration of revision TSN broadcasting: too much verbal guff results in plays being missed; announcers should call the game.(C. Cuthbert) There should be regular broadcasts of regional college games. Think positively. End of story.

  43. I’d like to see a CFL package one could buy outside cable; sorta’ like the NHL/MLB/NFL offers that I could live stream online. Most young fans don’t even have cable.

  44. Mike Clemons and please get rid of the estrogen laced logo. The league is in deep do do and it needs someone with Clemons appeal and smarts to help turn it around. Please, whomever takes over get rid of that freekin logo!!!!!

  45. Blobsquatch // April 15, 2017 at 11:21 am //

    OK, I can’t resist putting up a couple of names myself even though is is an exercise in fantasyland.
    If you are looking for a football guy with charisma, why not Matt Dunigan? In this important time for the league, he also brings an expertise on the matter of concussions.
    Second name…get ready…
    Kevin O’Leary (or for that matter, any of the Dragons). Someone with killer business sense that is attracted to the national spotlight. And the ego to believe he or she can get this thing turned around.

  46. Never liked the guy (who let the hockey night in canada song go)
    not Glen Johnson. If he can’t fix the refs, He can’t fix the league

  47. Rick, just because they are great TV personalities doesn’t mean they have any business acumen.

  48. Joe King // April 18, 2017 at 8:48 am //

    There’s a lot of very smart women that would do a fine job, maybe its time, especially when they makeup such a large percentage of the fan base.

    • Puck Hog // April 18, 2017 at 9:02 am //

      How about simply hiring the best person for the job, without saying it should be a woman?

  49. Priority #1 should be to make the games watchable again and eliminate the mind numbing stoppages. That means stepping back 2 or 3 years and letting the players settle the games on the field. The CFL could never survive the likes of Glenn Johnson following a disaster like Orridge.

    • I disagree. I like the video reviews when they subtract bad & borderline calls! Pass interference always used to favour the offence. Since the reviews came to be its become more evident that offensive interference does happen and often is miscalled on the defense.

      • Agree.

      • Bang on WCT,
        Endless reviews trying to make the game calling perfect kills the game.
        Refs are human and make mistakes in all. Leagues. No clue why we think it has to be flawless and involve video staff, command centres etc. Let the field staff decide. If they need to huddle up in case of disagreement so be it. But sending it off to HQ for an exhaustive deliberation while players get cold and momentum is lost sucks for viewers enormously. The game is slow enough as it is. I think video review is micro management at its worst.

  50. How about increasing the quality of the riffing in the first place. Maybe then, video review wouldn’t have been necessary

  51. Alex Droho // April 19, 2017 at 8:41 am //

    There are a lot of good smart ex-CFL players, American born or Canadian, who could take on the role as commissioner and do an excellent job. I could see Andy Fantuz doing the job some day. He is intelligent, articulate, well spoken, obviously knowledgeable about the league and he seems like a very approachable person.

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