Ambrosie admits flaws, charms Lions fans on league-wide tour

Randy Ambrosie knew he was no longer universally acclaimed in the hours and days before he hit the halfway mark of his self-described listening tour of CFL outposts.

It only took a full day mingling with the B.C. Lions and their fans to restore the love.

The commissioner’s likeability quotient took a dive earlier this week when a CFL player anonymously took to 3DownNation to proclaim his colleagues had lost faith in Ambrosie after the league’s top administrator made strong comments about the league’s contract rules. The player was notably taken aback by Ambrosie’s assertion that players should supplement their income by getting a second job.

That didn’t come out as the commissioner had planned, Ambrosie admitted during a series of media events in Vancouver Thursday, and there was a mea culpa or two tossed in for good measure when asked about various aspects of his first nine months on the job.

Any suggestion that the mistakes were getting the better of Ambrosie, however, were hardly in evidence, judging by the favourable response he received when discussing the state of three-down football.

The first major off-season event hosted by the Lions, which took place in front of 200-odd hand-picked season ticket holders at Surrey City Hall, culminated in questions which had been screened by the club, and ended up amounting to a town hall in which the stage was shared by Ambrosie with new general manager Ed Hervey and president Rick LeLacheur.

The day started with Ambrosie holding court at a downtown steakhouse in which the commissioner entertained club sponsors. He copped a plea on the player article in 3DownNation, which took place hours before the CFL Players Association issued a statement charging the league with a double standard by enforcing option-year provision in player contracts while coaches are often allowed to break deals.

“I wasn’t telling anyone to get a job,” Ambrosie said. “I was not and will not tell players what they should or should not do. My life got better because I used the opportunity the CFL provided me to start thinking about my future. If my crime is that I love the players so much I want them not only to have good football careers but good lives then I’m guilty as charged. This could be a stepping stone to an amazing life.”

It’s clear the commissioner has that going for himself at present. He stickhandled when asked if he had any advice to help the Lions, and when asked if he thought ticket prices were part of the disconnect in the marketplace. And Ambrosie only grudgingly confirmed he last week fined the Lions for releasing linebacker Micah Awe, stressing the need for uniformity in the option-year window.

But he was direct on many other points, admitting more work is needed to speed up the pace of play, and admitting his decision to change rules involving challenges and padded practices last year without widespread consultation was not one of his finer moments.

He hit on many of the themes outlined in his previous four stops, then squared up in the 80-minute evening question-and-answer session.

— With a show of hands, Ambrosie claimed the Lions audience was in slightly favour of a three-week shift forward in the league schedule, but said nothing would be done likely without coming back to fans for more consultation, plus a long talk with TSN.

— Owner David Braley drew polite applause when Ambrosie and Lions coach Wally Buono, who was also on stage, praised the efforts of the Hamilton-based benefactor. Buono got a bigger response when he said his team’s priority is to improve the quality of play on the line of scrimmage as a means to improve the performance of quarterback Jon Jennings.

— Biggest applause from fans came the Lions’ new $85 kids season ticket was referenced. Biggest reaction came when fans aggressively shouted down a suggestion for an NFL exhibition game to be staged at B.C. Place Stadium.

— LeLacheur said devising an alternate jersey was not a priority. Hervey made it clear his immediate priority is to strengthen his club in free agency next week but hardly made it seem receiver Adarius Bowman is at the top of his hit list, a point which became moot when he signed in Winnipeg.

“Understand Adarius would be a good player for us, but I came in with a mindset that we needed to address areas to make sure we truly believe need to be addressed,” said Hervey, who also gently needled Ambrosie onstage for the need for the CFL to create a pre-free agency negotiation period as implemented a few years ago in the NFL.

It was Ambrosie’s show though, agreeing no aspect of the product should go unchallenged, whether it is the need to produce a streaming clone similar to NFL Sunday Ticket or the state of cheerleaders on the sidelines.

“There’s a lot of opportunities in this league, a lot of low-hanging fruit,” Ambrosie said. And for a day in Vancouver, one of the places in the league where he is needed the most, he wasn’t finding much opposition among the converted once again.



Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.