One of the CFL’s longest-serving commissioners is leaving the post.
Mark Cohon will not return for a third term when his current contract expires in April, 2015. Now in his eighth season as CFL commissioner, only Jake Gaudaur (1968-1984) and Sydney Halter (1958-1966) have held the position as long.
Cohon, 48, says he made the announcement now to give the CFL’s board of governors time to recruit his replacement.
A lucrative television deal, the return of Ottawa to the CFL, labour peace until 2018, a more stringent drug-testing policy and new stadium projects in Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Ottawa will be among Cohon’s legacies.
“Those were all things that were major projects to move this league along,” Cohon told reporters Wednesday on a conference call.
“The thing I can be proud of is we built this great foundation for the next individual to build upon and for the board of governors to build upon.”
The weak position of the Argonauts in Toronto’s sports landscape and expansion into Atlantic Canada are unfinished business for Cohon, and a concussion lawsuit against the CFL was filed last month.
Cohon says he will continue to work on improving the Argos’ situation before he departs.
“What’s next for me is looking tape on Monday, doing discipline on Monday, closing sponsorship deals and getting ready for the Grey Cup, making an announcement on who the halftime act is at the Grey Cup and focusing on the business at hand,” he said.
“I haven’t even thought what’s next for me. I’m confident in my abilities in terms of thinking about what I can do. That will be another chapter, another story and another interview for another time.”
He took over as commissioner in 2007 from Tom Wright and signed a contract extension in February, 2012.
During the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup in Toronto that year, he told reporters “I’m happy where I am, I’m challenged and I hope to be around for a while.”
But Cohon says he’s checked off the important items on a checklist he compiled in 2007.
“I looked at that list and said ‘you know what? It’s probably the right time for me,“’ he said. “I’ve loved this job and I love this job. But I think there is a point in anyone’s career that you look at it and say ‘OK, I’m 48 years old. I’m going to be 49 at the end of my term.’
“Building that infrastructure around our stadiums was critical. I think our TV deal was another critical moment for us in building that financial stability.
“Probably because it’s so new and exciting, less than a month ago when I stood on the field and saw that sea of red and black in Ottawa and the team back in Ottawa, that is something I think I’ll always remember.”
The five-year television deal with TSN and RDS worth a reported $40-million per year gives the CFL unprecedented financial stability. The labour unrest the deal created was resolved in June with a new five-year collective bargaining agreement.
Cohon is working with Argonauts owner David Braley to get the team out of the Rogers Centre and into the more fan-friendly environment at BMO Field.
“For us to continue to grow and be strong as a league, part of that is continuing to grow our strength in Toronto,” Cohon said.
“The path has been laid and that’s something I want to continue to work on while I’m here, but I think we’re in a good situation to continue on that dialogue.”
He says his successor must know how to work with “strong personalities” and build consensus among the league’s owners.
“Any time you have an executive of Mark’s experience and accomplishments and his age, there’s always the thought he’s going to look for that next phase in his career,” said Jim Lawson, chairman of the board of governors.
“It’s not a shock. It’s a reality of business. We’re in a much better position today after Mark’s tenure.”