Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CEO Buchko's time to shine has arrived

Bomber boss needs to make good on plan to lure Forde to Winnipeg

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TORONTO -- Garth Buchko can sell. Just ask anyone who advertised on radio in Winnipeg over the last 25 years. They likely bought a commercial that Buchko had a hand in selling. But flipping 30-second spots on a ratings giant isn't nearly the challenge Buchko faces right now.

The president and CEO of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers has a three-way selling job on his hands in the recruitment and hiring of a new assistant GM. He needs to sell the candidate he wants on the Bombers, GM Joe Mack on a succession plan and the club's board members on the budget.

The first-year boss will work a lot of rooms this week at the Grey Cup. But there will be one sitdown of more importance than the rest. Whether it be in a hotel room, restaurant or bar, when Buchko pulls up a chair and unloads his spiel on TSN analyst Duane Forde, it will be the key pitch of his sports executive career to date.

Buchko needs to convince the next assistant GM of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers that he isn't making a career mistake.

Lately, taking a job with the Bombers has been akin to spilling red wine on your resumé. It leaves a stain than can both be seen and smelled. And it's difficult to remove.

Buchko, if he is to get his way, must also sell his board and his current GM on his preferred candidate. It's no secret Buchko wants Forde.

There are other capable candidates. But none has the mix of pedigree, profile and qualifications Forde brings to the table.

The Bombers, after a disastrous winter off the field followed by a worse season on it, need a win to get this off-season started right.

Hiring special teams co-ordinator Kyle Walters, who is the choice of GM Joe Mack, has its merits but it won't fly with fans. It will appear as another move in the same old tradition that has come to be the Bomber way. A bland hire done on the cheap.

No offence to Mr. Walters, who by all accounts is a hard worker and nice guy, but he doesn't have the cachet of Forde.

Buchko wants more. He wants a big personality to shine on a now very competitive sports marketplace in Winnipeg. Jets coach Claude Noel is a huge draw in this town. Buchko is seeking a similar presence. Mack doesn't provide it and new head coach Tim Burke prefers to work in a hoodie and sweats.

Forde is more than just a celebrity. He's quite possibly the most knowledgable person when it comes to Canadian-born football talent. He's the Mel Kyper of the CFL.

Forde has spent the better part of a decade building the reputation that has him in consideration for the GM job in Ottawa and front office jobs in Hamilton and Winnipeg. He was a standout player with the University of Western Ontario Mustangs and had solid, workmanlike playing career in the CFL.

Smart, ethical and likeable, there's little downside to Forde and the upside is without a ceiling.

But this hire is problematic.

Forde and his wife Sheri have careers with TSN. Those jobs don't fall out of trees. They are hard won positions and not easily tossed aside.

Bringing Forde to Winnipeg will require as much commitment -- in terms of money, term and potential for advancement -- from the Bombers as the candidate. The Fordes are not leaving their home in Ontario and making career adjustments on a flyer.

They'll need security and a future in our city to make this move.

This is where Buchko must also get Mack and the board onside.

Mack must agree to work with Forde and to eventually make room for him at the top of the organizational chart.

Opening the cage door and pitting the two against one another in a power struggle would lead to disaster. Buchko can bring Forde to Mack but the GM must make the hire and not just sign off on it. Mack has to buy into the merits of a succession plan. Without Mack's cooperation -- Forde won't take the job. It's not his style.

The board, some of whom would prefer to hire former player Doug Brown, will need to provide Buchko with the budget to bring in a candidate of Forde's ilk. It will be expensive. Likely north of $200,000 and for at least three years. Forde will have to assume some risk, too. Nothing is guaranteed but he's going to want some security.

The Bombers, as they are currently constructed, are a question mark on the field. They have some pieces but they have huge holes as well with no answer at the quarterback position. Buchko doesn't have the luxury of selling a winning franchise. He's putting a rebuild on the market and selling a half-renovated house is near impossible in the real estate game.

Especially to a buyer like Forde, who has options.

The advantage for Buchko is Forde wants in the game. He wants to be a GM and run his own team some day. The opportunities for such work are rare. No one knows whether Forde will have other chances. Sooner or later he'll have to jump and the Bombers might present his best opportunity.

There appears to be a match to be made. Now Buchko must close the deal.

If the Bombers don't get Forde it's a failure. If they get him it will be a coup. A major win for Buchko, the organization and the community.

Turn on the charm, Garth. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2012 C2


Updated on Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 11:53 AM CST: Fixes typo.

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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