After decades as one of the most stable and well-run organizations in the CFL, the Edmonton Elks might as well be starting from scratch.
A recent downward trend for the club turned into a death-spiral in 2021, resulting in an chaotic last place finish finish and the firing of three of the team’s key decision-makers: head coach Jaime Elizondo, general manager Brock Sunderland, and team president Chris Presson.
The question on everyone’s mind now is just how fast new leadership will be able to right the ship, something TSN reporter Ryan Rishaug feels many may not like the answer to.
“I think Elks fans, they probably need to brace themselves for it to be a year or two here of letting them get their feet under them while the new people actually do some stuff that can meaningfully make change, but I don’t know how much patience there’s gonna be,” he said frankly in an appearance on The Jason Gregor Show.
“You’ve got to be competitive. You’ve got to play competitive football and have a football team that people can at least feel proud to watch the way they play the game. I wonder if that’s gonna be just as important. You want to play the right way and you want to win, but play the game in a way that’s exciting so that whatever the result is, your fans feel good about the money they spent and the team that they’re cheering for.”
Fans certainly didn’t feel proud of what they had to cheer for last season and as a result, Commonwealth Stadium — traditionally one of the CFL’s most well-attended venues — was made disturbingly bare.
The departed trio of Elizondo, Sunderland and Presson’s tenure was marked by a string of never ending controversies ranging from the team’s high profile COVID-19 outbreak to the sudden trading of starting quarterback Trevor Harris, leaving a mess of distrust and disappointment within the fan base that no doubt sped up the decision regarding their removal.
The choice as for who to replace them has not moved at a similar pace and a month later, Rishaug is beginning to wonder if the decision to hire the entire main power structure of the organization all at once might be presenting a hurdle.
“I wonder, how do you think top candidates view the job? You think it’s a job that the top candidates are looking at and going ‘yeah, there’s only so many of these in the league’ and everybody’s all in? Or do you think there would be hesitation here from top candidates? Like ‘who’s my boss gonna be’ might be the first question,” he asked rhetorically.
Typically a president would hire a general manager of his choosing, who would then hire a head coach, but that isn’t possible in Edmonton. Board chair Ian Murray, whose own mandate is soon set to expire, is looking for candidates for all three jobs simultaneously, creating uncertainty regarding the power dynamics down the road.
Fortunately, Canadian Football Hall of Fame coach and general manager Wally Buono has been brought on as a consultant to steer the football ops side of the search and Rishaug had some advice for him.
“I think it would be good to have somebody in that general manager position who ideally has had some experience doing the job and has done it before,” he said. “I just don’t know that you’re bringing in a first time guy for the fix here.”
Regardless of who ends up in each of the three roles, they have a monumental task in front of them getting the Elks back to their winning ways. For that task, Rishaug won’t project a deadline.
“I don’t know, man. I don’t know if it’s two years, three years. Maybe they’ll be more miraculous than that, with the CFL, I guess you never know. Maybe it could be quicker than that, but we’ll see,” he wavered, before getting back to the priority issue.
“Probably time to get some decisions done though, don’t you think?”