Mark Cohon to step down as CFL commissioner in 2015

Now in his eighth season as CFL commissioner, Mark Cohon revealed Wednesday that he will not seek a third term when his contract expires next April.

Will not seek third term when contract expires next April

Mark Cohon will step down as CFL commissioner before the 2015 season. Cohon, who has spent eight years in the role, helped bring a team back to Ottawa, the expansion Redblacks. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

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."

'Right time for me'

Cohon took over as CFL 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."

'Path has been laid' 

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."

Cohon 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."

Mark Cohon's statement

Dear CFL Fans

Today I informed our Board of Governors that I will not seek a third term as Commissioner of the Canadian Football League.

This is a very personal decision. I knew in my gut when I came here that the CFL was the right place for me and I have never regretted that decision. Today, those same instincts are telling me it is time to move on to tackle new challenges and opportunities.

I won't be going anywhere for a while. I have indicated my willingness to complete my current term as Commissioner. It doesn't expire until April 2015 but I wanted to give our Governors ample time to find the right person for this important position. Their search will begin immediately. And I will continue to work as Commissioner for the rest of this season and for months to come.

Still, I can't help but reflect. It's incredible how quickly time flies. This is my eighth season as Commissioner, and I have loved every minute of working on behalf of our iconic franchises, with our elite and unselfish athletes, and for you, our wonderful fans.

Thank you so much.

Our league has come a long way over these years. You have made every advance possible.

  • When we debuted the REDBLACKS this season, you packed the place.
  • When we celebrated the 100th Grey Cup, you came to every event, and when we took our historic trophy from coast to coast to coast by plane, train and automobile, you were on board, often literally.
  • When we visited Atlantic Canada, you came with us, or were already there for us.
  • When we declared This is Our League, you cheered.
  • When we sat down to negotiate a transformative deal with TSN and RDS, you armed us with great ratings.
  • When we said we needed new stadiums, you showed your support to help make them happen.
  • When we launched the Fan State of the League, you filled the room with energy, emotion and tough questions.
  • When we launched the SunLife Grey Cup Fan March, you filled the streets with fun and emotion and, as I knew would happen, not one of you dropped the Grey Cup, and all of you cherished the moment.
  • When I asked for your rule changes, you had the most innovative ones.
  • When I asked for your input, you took the time to write or call or email or tweet, and each and every time, your passion for our league shone through.
  • And when I wandered into the stands, into a Sea of Green or Box J or any one of the special places that has made this league what it is, you welcomed me and my family with open arms, good humour, and the occasional priceless one-liner.

Commissioners come and go. So do coaches and quarterbacks. Our league and game are much bigger than any one person. The CFL will continue to grow and succeed in the future because of you, our fans.

Still, I hope the CFL is better for the time I have spent here. I know I am and always will be.

Thank you for everything.



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