After what was described as a continent-wide search, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers found their new leader on the doorstep — or at least next door.
Garth Buchko, the boss of local radio broadcast-rights holder CJOB, was confirmed Thursday as the new president and chief executive officer of the CFL club, effective March 1.
“This is the greatest position I could ever, ever imagine,” he said.
He is the first permanent president since Lyle Bauer left in 2009. Unlike Bauer, a former Bomber offensive lineman and current president of the Calgary Stampeders, Buchko promises to leave football operations in the hands of general manager Joe Mack.
“I believe in hiring the best people to do their job — and when it comes to football operations, Joe Mack is the best person — and let them do their job and be accountable for that job,” he said.
Buchko doesn't have far to haul his stuff.
CJOB is currently a neighbour of the Bombers at Canad Inns Stadium, although that won't be the case for long. Next season the CFL team will move to the recently named Investors Group Field, still under construction at the University of Manitoba.
The man who has sat in the president's office on an interim basis since last July, engineer Ossama AbouZeid, will continue after March 1 as project manager of the new stadium. That's the role he had before and kept during his tenure as interim CEO.
Bomber board president Bill Watchorn said they had 75 potential candidates for the job but narrowed it down to seven and then just two. While living in Winnipeg after hire was required of any successful applicant, being from the city was not, he insisted.
“Living in Winnipeg was important (but) the fact that we picked Garth was based on a set of criteria other than Winnipeg, and it just so happens that he lives in Winnipeg,” Watchorn said.
Buchko has worked in radio for 30 years, most of them with CJOB, now a Corus station that also operates Power 97 and Groove FM. His background is in the sales and marketing side of radio but he has been general manager for the last 16 years.
The Bombers are in pretty good shape both on and off the field, despite a heart-breaking loss for fans in the Grey Cup in Vancouver even though the club was an underdog.
“We've increased revenues over what we thought we would have,” said Watchorn.
The team set season-ticket records and posted regular sellouts in their final games at Canad Inns Stadium, their home since 1953 (for most of that time it was simply called Winnipeg Stadium).
Buchko says one of his challenges will be taking things further next season with a brand new facility under his control. First, though, the Bombers must move in.
“The first priority is the transition,” he said. “The other thing is looking at the business operations.
“The new stadium has a lot of business and mark opportunities for advertisers and corporate sponsors.”
That's where his strengths lie, Buchko said.
“I think I bring a skillset to the football club that hasn't been here for a while,” he added. “Which is a guy who's more involved in sales and marketing and the community and working with customers on partnerships and promotions.”
One goal will be bringing more events to the new $190-million, 33,500-seat stadium to ensure it pays for itself. The facility will be able to seat up to 40,000 for some events.
“This is a tremendous brand and something that we're all proud of but there's a lot of work to be done,” he said. “We most certainly need to do a lot more things to make the stadium and the entertainment complex viable.”
Since he's leaving football issues to Mack, Buchko gets to pass on one headache that may come sooner rather than later — replacing defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke. Burke is a serious candidate for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' vacant head-coaching position.
Burke helped transform Winnipeg's defence into one of the most potent in the league last season. The unit was a big reason why the team managed to finish atop the East Division and advance to the Grey Cup final in Vancouver.
If Burke leaves, that would mean two key jobs need filling. The team cut offensive co-ordinator Jamie Barresi right after the Grey Cup loss to the B.C. Lions.