As an undersized special-teams player, Wade Miller continually had to prove himself over 11 seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
It’s the same approach the Winnipeg native is taking as the Bombers’ new chief executive officer.
Miller, 40, was named the Bombers acting CEO as the struggling CFL club cleaned house Friday, firing GM Joe Mack and president/CEO Garth Buchko.
“Since the age of 23, I’ve been rolling up my sleeves, getting it done and delivering results,” Miller said. “And yes, I even welcome the term ‘acting CEO,’ because I’m not afraid to prove myself and let my results speak for themselves.
“To our fans, I want you to know I’m committed to the heavy lifting required to put us on a new path and affect the kind of change that will lead us into a new direction. These aren’t empty words.”
Mack’s dismissal wasn’t surprising as Winnipeg (1-5) is last in the East Division and 21-39 overall since he was hired in 2010 as GM and vice-president of football operations. But Buchko’s departure — he had been named president and CEO in January 2012 — and subsequent hiring of Miller certainly were unexpected.
The moves came a day after word leaked out of Winnipeg that Buchko had recently advised the team’s board of directors to fire Mack. That didn’t sit well with team chairman Brock Bulbuck, who announced the sweeping changes at Friday’s news conference.
“Not only was the unauthorized release of information extremely unfortunate, it was unethical and left Joe Mack in a position that we all find abhorrent,” Bulbuck said. “Though we may never determine whether, in fact, a board member leaked the information or who it was, you can count on the fact that we take the situation extremely seriously.
“If discovered we will take immediate corrective action to ensure that this type of behaviour is not tolerated in this organization.”
Miller boldly predicted there will be no such leaks on his watch.
“It simply won’t happen and I look forward to ensuring that it doesn’t,” he said. “We will work to ensure that those things do not occur again.”
Miller, who retired as a player in 2006, wasted no time getting started in his new role. Shortly after his appointment he phoned Mack, who was scouting NFL training camps, to tell him he was no longer with the organization.
“I’m an individual that moves quickly,” Miller said. “A GM has the responsibility to win football games.
“Let’s call a spade a spade, under Joe Mack the record speaks for itself.”
Miller said he has spoken with head coach Tim Burke but hasn’t yet met with assistant GM Kyle Walters, who was out of the office Friday. And the new CEO made it clear the buck stops with him.
“I’ve been given the mandate to be the CEO of the organization and I will run the organization the way it needs to be run,” he said. “I will look to the board for counsel but I will make those decisions.”
Miller appeared in 167 career games with Winnipeg after being selected in the fourth round of the ‘95 CFL draft out of the University of Manitoba. The backup fullback was twice an East Division all-star and is the franchise leader in special-teams tackles with 184. Twice he led the league in that category.
In 1996 and ‘97 Miller received the Ed Kotowich Good Guy Award, given annually to the Winnipeg player who best combines football ability with community service. He was inducted into the Bombers’ Hall of Fame in 2011 and is also the chairman of the club’s alumni association.
Miller has also excelled off the field.
He’s the founder and CEO of Pinnacle, a staffing solutions company, and oversees the physiotherapy division of Elite Performance, a sports-specific training and rehabilitation firm. He also owns Booster Juice franchises in Winnipeg.
“Driven by his entrepreneurial ambitious spirit, Wade likes to build winning teams and we’re giving him the mandate to do just that,” Bulbuck said. “Whether it’s in the locker-room, boardroom or reaching out into the community.
“In him we believe we’ve found an unbeatable combination of passion, commitment and experience to set the Winnipeg football club on a new path.”
Mack was in his second stint with Winnipeg. He was the player-personnel director of the Bombers’ ‘84 Grey Cup-winning team and also earned a Super Bowl ring with the ‘92 Washington Redskins.
Mack left Winnipeg in ‘87 to become a scout with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons before becoming Washington’s personnel director. He also spent time with the Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns.
Mack didn’t enjoy immediate success upon returning to Winnipeg. The Bombers were a dismal 4-14 in 2010 but finished atop the East Division in 2011 with a 10-8 record.
Winnipeg dropped a 34-23 decision to the B.C. Lions in the 2011 Grey Cup then started the 2012 campaign by losing its first four games. Mack fired head coach Paul LaPolice following the club’s 2-6 start but the general consensus following that move was if the club continued to struggle, Mack would be the next to go.
Mack’s most questionable decision was to stick with veteran Buck Pierce at quarterback. When healthy, Pierce has shown he can lead the offence but he has been plagued by injuries since joining the Bombers in 2010.
Pierce is now No. 3 on the depth chart behind new starter Justin Goltz and first-year CFL player Max Hall.
“I’m going to focus on football first to bring back the history and winning attitude we used to have because that’s what our fans not only expect but deserve,” Miller said. “But I also want you to know in our new home (Investors Group Field) we have to grow this beyond football to ensure and take advantage of offering our community a full range of opportunities available in this sport and entertainment facility.
“Now we’re going to make things right on the field and create the best fan experience possible and that includes a competitive team.”