When it comes to good business practices in the CFL, there is no better judge than former Saskatchewan Roughriders president and CEO Jim Hopson.
The Hall of Fame executive helped elevate the league’s premier franchise into a new era of dominance from 2005 to 2014 and has a tremendous amount of respect for others trying to do the same. That includes Montreal Alouettes owner Gary Stern, whose unfiltered style of fan engagement on social media has raised some eyebrows, most recently for the insistence that his 2-5 franchise would beat the undefeated Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night.
“He’s good for the league. We need guys like that,” Hopson said in an appearance on The Rod Pedersen Show this week.
“The NFL has got all kinds of owners that are out there and making comments. Good for Gary and he’s passionate, he loves the team. They show him a lot on game day and Montreal has got a pretty good team but they can’t seem to finish the game. That’s what they’ve got to do against Winnipeg, because Winnipeg finds a way to win.”
This isn’t the first time that Stern has found himself featured in headlines since taking over the Alouettes, incorrectly promising to “kill” Toronto earlier this season and trading barbs with CFL on TSN panellist Milt Stegall over the team’s last victory. The early firing of head coach Khari Jones added another element of controversy, one that Hopson himself found somewhat confusing.
“I don’t know what’s going on in Montreal,” he acknowledged. “I was a big fan of their coach and I’m glad to see he landed on his feet, but the product is good.”
Questionable personnel decisions aside, Hopson is in favour of a few inflammatory public comments and extends that opinion to players. Calgary Stampeders’ quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell caused his own controversy following last week’s loss to Winnipeg, saying he had “beat that team a thousand times” and promising to meet the Bombers in the playoffs.
While much of Rider Nation would find any words exiting Mitchell’s mouth to be distasteful, their former leader loves it.
“I like Bo, he’s a character,” Hopson said. “He’s got a strong belief in himself. He wins and I think he’s good for the league in terms of, he creates headlines.”
“I was sad to see him struggling last year and I was afraid his career was maybe on the downside, but he’s bouncing back. If you had Bo on your team, we were talking about [former Riders’ defensive back] Dwight Anderson, he’s that kind of guy. If he’s on your team, you love him. If he’s not, yeah, not so much.”
While Hopson was quick to spread love to many unpopular figures within the Saskatchewan fan base, including praising the rival Bombers, there is one CFL personality he has difficulty supporting.
Edmonton Elks’ head coach and general manager Chris Jones remains on Hopson’s naughty list from his time as the bench boss with the Riders, though he begrudgingly admits that his process seems to work.
“I’m not a big Chris Jones fan. But having said that, I respect what he does and he’s making that team better,” Hopson explained.
“He does it in the most unorthodox way. I mean, who brings back Manny Arceneaux? But Manny seems to be helping that team. He changes his quarterbacks like [his underwear], it’s crazy, but he’ll make that team better.”