The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have taken the first step toward hiring a new assistant general manager by firing the old one.
The Bombers canned long-serving Ross Hodgkinson on Tuesday and will now attempt to bring in a high-profile football man to eventually succeed GM Joe Mack.
"In fairness to Ross, a longtime employee, I don't think it's fair really to critique and offer any reasons in public..." Mack said after the club made the announcement.
TSN analyst Duane Forde is the front-runner and the Bombers are expected to ramp up ongoing discussions.
Forde tops a short list of three candidates, but it's not inconceivable Winnipeg could hire someone entirely off the board.
B.C. Lions assistant GM Neil McEvoy, whose name has popped up, has said he's not interested in the post. Hamilton Tiger-Cats personnel co-ordinator Drew Allemang is also on Winnipeg's list but he's not a high-profile hire.
"I haven't talked to Duane. I'm not sure if Garth (CEO Buchko) has. You'd have to ask him," said Mack. "But he's a very viable candidate and I'll be talking to him soon. We have a list of three or four people we'd like to talk to."
Buchko wants a candidate that can move to the top quickly in a succession plan that could be activated as soon as next season if things don't go well, but more likely in 2015 when Mack's contract expires.
Forde is considered one of the top evaluators of Canadian talent and runs his own combine as well as being TSN's top draft-day analyst. There is also interest in Forde for the vacant GM job in Ottawa and potentially in Hamilton, if they make a change. Edmonton is also in the market for a GM but they are more likely to give head coach Kavis Reed the dual role or promote Ed Hervey.
Buchko wants a year-round football presence in Winnipeg, something Mack is unable to provide due to family commitments in North Carolina. Buchko has stated the next GM of the Bombers will live in Winnipeg full-time.
"We're looking for a guy that can handle administrative duties as well as one that has a real handle on the CIS and Canadian talent," said Mack. "The big thing is we have to delicately figure out where there is interest and who we can talk with. We have to ask for permission from other teams. We haven't done that yet and I don't want to put anyone in a difficult position with another team."
Hodgkinson, who held the title since 2008, handled day-to-day duties such as salary-cap planning, travel, contracting and other administrative duties. He had been with the club in various capacities, including trainer, since 1985.
Firing Hodgkinson, who Bombers chairman of the board Bill Watchorn called "a Blue Bomber through and through" just last week, was a dirty bit of business. There was no shortage of anger inside the Bombers offices and around the league when the news broke.
"Fire Lapo, fire Ross, keep Mack. Some organization you have there in Winnipeg," emailed one league executive.
"Not surprising. That's the way they treat people there. That's why they won't get anyone good to move there," said another team honcho.
Hodgkinson could be gruff and unpredictable but he is highly respected around the league for his work ethic, capabilities and loyalty. It's unlikely he'll be out of work long with potential openings in Edmonton, Hamilton and Ottawa on the horizon.
"Last time I checked I didn't throw any interceptions or take any penalties," Hodgkinson said Tuesday night. "I have a clear conscience on that one. People don't understand the inner workings of an organization. To try and tie my work to the record on the field is ludicrous. I've always been a loyal employee. I have some great memories. I wish the Bombers the best. I don't think I'm done in this league and hopefully I will be on the other sideline doing battle soon."
Following is the club's statement announcing Hodgkinson's firing.
"We would like to take this time to thank Ross for everything he has done for the organization over his time here," said Mack.
"With the club looking at going in a different direction when it comes to our front office management, we felt this was in the best interest of the organization to bring in someone new to fill this position. Our search for a new Assistant General Manager will begin immediately and we hope to have someone in place very soon. We wish Ross all the best."