Nik Lewis wants revenue sharing between CFL and the players, bashes teams for expensive coach firings

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

After years of debate, CFL revenue sharing has finally arrived, but some don’t think those sharing the wealth deserve the slice of the pie that they have.

Canadian Football Hall of Fame receiver Nik Lewis appeared on The Rod Pedersen Show earlier this week and wasn’t too enthused by the prospect of owners seeing their pocketbooks protected by the league’s new model of “horizontal governance,” particularly given some of the business decisions they make in the process of claiming poverty.

“At the end of the day, I think the revenue share should be between the players and the league. It shouldn’t just be between the different teams,” Lewis said flatly.

“We all know coaches’ contracts are guaranteed, but these teams, these GMs, these owners, they hire coaches, fire coaches, continue to pay coaches out of the pocket and then they just claim that they don’t make any money. Well, you can’t be paying two or three people that don’t even work for the organization anymore.”

Critics of CFL management have long complained that players receive a disproportionately small portion of the league’s revenue. In addition, players can be cut on a whim at no cost while coaches receive monetary guarantees.

Lewis believes guaranteed contracts for coaches are essential, but when impatient owners are too quick on the trigger it has long created financial strain. With the current CFL coaching cap, that is limited to one area of football operations, but teams like the the Edmonton Elks are currently feeling a serious pinch after firing their head coach one year into his contract.

The way Lewis sees it, that’s bad business and bad for the football team.

“If you’re a coach and you’re taking over a bad situation, you sit down with the GM or the owner and you tell them how you plan on changing this situation. You can’t say ‘hey, in the first year, we’re gonna go win a Grey Cup.’ You give them a two-to-three year plan on how you can change this organization around and it sucks that they still continue to fire these coaches after one year when you didn’t hire ’em for one year,” he explained.

“They have to be able to come in and change things. You can’t just get rid of contracts or cut veterans or do things like that just to change the dynamics, because when you’re talking about a different scheme, you might need a different quarterback or you might need a different running back or a different type of o-linemen. All those things play a major role in executing your vision of how we can go from where we are now, the reason I’m sitting in this chair, to years from now being a contender on a yearly basis.”

Too many teams are unwilling to let that process play out, as Lewis saw first hand. In 2019, he served on the staff of first year head coach DeVone Claybrooks with the B.C. Lions, but was not retained after Claybrooks was unceremoniously fired by then owner David Braley.

The decision to move on quickly has not paid immediate dividends for that organization, but some who have shown patience are reaping rewards. Just ask the two-time defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their head coach Mike O’Shea.

“He did not win early and then they were about to fire him. He hired [Paul] LaPolice to come in and run the offence and then they started winning. I remember the day they asked him, why would you hire your replacement as the offensive coordinator and he gave the greatest answer. If he is who they say he is, there is no reason to replace me,” Lewis recalled.

“Mike O’Shea is a great dude, but he has no ego in anything. It’s all about his coaches being able to prepare his team and he wants the best people around him. Now they’ve been successful and just look what they built when you stuck with one guy through some hard times.”

CFL owners are not nearly as ego-less as O’Shea, but continue to use rash firings as a financial excuse. Until both players and coaches get their due, Nik Lewis has no pity.