Edmonton Elks president Victor Cui was blindsided by his team’s blowout season-opening loss to the B.C. Lions, but has not lost faith in their ability to turn things around quickly.
Joining The Nielson Show on TSN 1260 ahead of Saturday’s home-opener against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Cui admitted that he could not have predicted the 59-15 drubbing that christened his first season at the helm of the organization.
“I will not lie, my butt still hurts from that kicking we received. But that’s the business of sports and how it goes,” Cui said. “I went into that game, as did our entire team, without any consideration that we might even possibly lose. It just was not even in my mindset and I think if you really want to build a championship team, that’s what everybody in the organization thinks.”
Despite their abundance of confidence, the Elks suffered one of the worst defeats in franchise history. Depleted by injuries suffered in training camp, a young and inexperienced roster looked shellshocked in head coach and general manager Chris Jones’ return to the sidelines, calling into question his status as a defensive guru.
Jones was hired by Edmonton in order to return the team to championship prominence, having brought them their last Grey Cup title in 2015. His reputation for unconventional roster-building was on full display in the disappointing debut, but Cui has faith that Jones’ other attributes will quickly become apparent as he makes the difficult choices necessary to field a winner.
“If there is one man who has proven that he has the ability to immediately transform an organization and make the hard changes that are needed, Coach Jones has that reputation,” Cui insisted. “You’re going to see him field a completely different team and a team that has learned from their mistakes.”
That process is already in motion, as Jones has made a whopping 12 changes to the game-day roster ahead of their matchup with the Riders. Nevertheless, the Elks remain eight-point underdogs at home according to most Ontario sportsbooks.
More important than winning or losing however is ensuring a strong game-day experience, drawing fans back into Commonwealth Stadium after a 2021 season in which they overwhelmingly rejected the organization.
Reconnecting with the local community has been Cui’s mission since his hiring in January and he didn’t have to look far for inspiration as to how to fill the stands, as the Elks’ opening loss last week came in front of a crowd of more than 34,000 at BC Place last week thanks to the efforts of Lions owner Amar Doman.
Cui lauded the atmosphere in Vancouver but says he’ll be employing a slightly different strategy in Edmonton, forgoing a splashy home-opener concert as B.C. had with Grammy-nominated band OneRepublic in favour of gradual growth.
“The goal in my mind is not to come out with a massive bang and not be able to sustain that bang. We are coming from a position where I’ve got to make strong, fiscally responsible decisions,” Cui said. “I need to make sure that we are building the foundation that will ensure that this team continues to succeed and grow over the next decade and be the best team in the entire league. That means we have to go at these game-by-game improvements one at a time.”
“If I wanted to look at making our home season-opener or one game or two games a year a massive blowout, of course, we could spend all that money and we could bring in Garth Brooks as a guest appearance. That’s not the name of the game that I think we need to play.”
Instead, his personal engagement with fans will result in steady improvements to the game-day experience and season-ticket holder package but that could all be for naught if the team on the field continues to be outclassed.
Another butt-kicking at the hands of the Riders will make rebuilding the Elks’ profile much more difficult, but Cui continues to trust Jones to build a competitive team he can sell to the public without the help of musical guests.