LeLacheur back as interim president, CEO of Edmonton Elks

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Elks’ board of governors created a list of more than 20 candidates to serve as the CFL team's interim top executive.

But there was a clear No. 1 choice at the top of that list, and that was Rick LeLacheur.

LeLacheur was lured out of retirement and introduced as interim president and chief executive officer on Tuesday. He replaces Victor Cui, who parted ways with the team last week.

“We are a proud, community-owned team,” said board of governors chair Tom Richards. “Rick brings us some instant credibility with our shareholders and our community.”

LeLacheur has held the president’s role previously with both Edmonton — winning Grey Cups in 2003 and 2005 — and, later, the B.C. Lions, where he was tasked at finding new ownership for the team. He retired in 2022.

Before LeLacheur became Elks' president for the first time, he was the head of Economic Development Edmonton, and led the hosting effort for the 2001 World Championship in Athletics.

LeLacheur described himself as a "CFL lifer."

“On the football side, I’ll take it game by game,” said LeLacheur. “On the business side, I’ll have to look into everything that’s been going on and the financials. It’s no secret that the team has been struggling.

"I’m not going to be able to flip a switch and change things overnight. This is a longer term fix, but I’m committed — to Tom and the board particularly – that I am going to be here for the next four months as we look for a new CEO.”

LeLacheur will have a strong voice in finding the Elks’ permanent president and CEO, but said when his time is up, he will not look to extend his stay.

"I won’t be a candidate for the full-time CEO going past my interim basis."

The Elks moved to 1-9 on the season after a win in Hamilton last week but are in the midst of a North American pro-sports record 22-game losing streak on home turf. That streak stretches back to 2019. The Elks host the Ottawa Redblacks on Sunday.

And the team has been bleeding fans. Edmonton averaged 23,787 spectators in 2022, compared to the league-high 31,517 fans it averaged in 2015. The Elks drew an announced crowd of 19,921 to their 38-29 home loss to Winnipeg two weeks ago, but the eyeball test would have pegged the crowd at a much lower number. And, of those in attendance, many were wearing Blue Bombers jerseys.

Cui, who grew up in Edmonton but made his name in Asia as the co-founder of the mixed-martial arts promoter, ONE Championship, was hired to be the Elks president and CEO in January 2022. But, after a season and a half on the job, Cui signed off on his resignation after coming to a mutual agreement with the Elks’ board that he and the club should part ways.

LeLacheur said he will spend the rest of the week meeting with senior staff, asking them to make priority lists for what they see as areas that desperately need attention within the organization.

As he wound down his career with the Lions, LeLacheur saw what was happening with the Elks, and could not believe his eyes.

“It hurts. Internally, it hurts,” he said. “I was so busy in B.C., but I watched it from afar. To see what’s happened, particularly the empty seats, it’s not a good thing. It’s not a good thing for the Elks, it’s not a good thing for the CFL.

“We’ve had a lot of teams throughout the years of the CFL go up and down. I think the ownership of all of the teams in the CFL is probably the strongest it’s ever been, right now.”

When Cui’s departure was announced, Richards said it was going to take two to three weeks to find an interim CEO. But, it took just one. And that’s because LeLacheur was the clear candidate targeted by the board.

“We had a list of over 20,” Richards said. “We asked the board and others to put forward names, and then we said ‘OK, we have to start narrowing this down.’ And every one of us who ranked (candidates) had Rick as the No. 1.”

The search for that permanent CEO has already begun. Richards said a request for proposals has already gone out, and “three to four” search firms are also involved. So far, one résumé has come in.

"We’re in the very early stages on that front," said Richards.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2023.

Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press