After a catastrophic season that ended with a 3-11 record and seven consecutive losses in front of the home fans, the Edmonton Elks have terminated the contracts of Chris Presson, Brock Sunderland, and Jaime Elizondo.
“As announced earlier today, the Edmonton Elks Board of Directors has made the decision to terminate the contracts of President and CEO Chris Presson, General Manager and Vice President of Football Operations Brock Sunderland, and head coach Jaime Elizondo,” said Ian Murray the Chair of the Edmonton Elks Board of Directors.
“All three departing members of the organization were notified of their dismissal this morning effective today,” he continued. “After considerable discussion and consideration, the Board of Directors determined that our significant on and off-field problems required changes at the senior leadership level in order to rectify the shortcomings and rebuild the trust and confidence of the Elks fans and the community.”
In recent weeks, the Ottawa Redblacks fired Marcel Desjardins, meaning the Elks will have competition surrounding their new general manager hire. Despite that, the search for a new general manager has begun as well as the search for a new CEO. Additionally, Wally Buono has been brought on as a consultant to help out with the process of hiring a general manager.
“Regarding the road ahead, the team has already begun a search for permanent replacements for both the CEO and the general manager positions,” Murray said. “We are pleased to have contracted long-time CFL player, coach, general manager, and executive, Wally Buono. Wally will report to a small board that will advise the club regarding the process to hire a new general manager.”
The moves have been met by thunderous applause (albeit virtually) from Elks fans, many of whom wanted this done halfway through the season. The expectations before the season were sky-high with hopes of a Grey Cup coming back to Edmonton top of mind, but a three-win season was nowhere near what was expected from them.
“The past couple of years have been incredibly difficult for the people in this community and this last year especially so,” said Murray. “We understand your high expectations for this team. We hear your concerns. We had several challenges and problems including poor performance on the field, the COVID outbreak that we experienced, and other difficult issues related to the introduction of the COVID mandate and electronic ticketing.”
“This has been hard for all of us and we sympathize with the concerns,” he continued. “I was once a fan, and like others, I hold memories of the success of the past. The board is committed to fixing these problems and getting us back to a position of strength and success.”
The Elks have been through a lot in the past three or so years. The 2019 season was another complete disaster where the team came nowhere close to their expectations. Then the pandemic hit and the controversy surrounding their old name hit an all-time high, ultimately culminating in the change to Elks. Then, of course, this season has been a train wreck. Through it all, we have seen fewer and fewer fans coming to Commonwealth Stadium each game day.
The focus is now squarely on what can be done going forward. Murray suggests that the Elks are fine financially and they are committed to bringing a winning product back, both on and off the field.
“We are fortunate to continue to have a strong balance sheet, and the Board of Directors are committed to investing as necessary to achieve our goals,” said Murray.
“There’s no simple answer to what went wrong,” he continued. “Some of the issues are operations, some are pure business. The accumulation of these issues percolated and crystalized over these last several months and it became apparent change was necessary. It would be inappropriate to pick one or two things. We are committed to fixing the problems both on and off the field.”
“Going forward, some of these problems can be rectified. When or how this went off the rails isn’t clear, and I don’t actually think it’s fully off the rails. I think we can fix it.”
As they go through the process of rebuilding their front office, the Elks and Murray know what they need to do. Finding a way to bring back fans that have either left because of the name change or for their poor on-field showing is important, but so is building a stronger, more diverse fan base more representative of the community in Edmonton.
“Our demographics are brutal — they’re disproportionately old, male and white, which isn’t representative of our community,” said Murray.
“We have a short-term problem to get the fans back that are really upset with us, and then we have a medium to long term problem to grow the fan base so that it’s more representative of the community,” he said.