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The world according to Michael

 

Feterik serves it up on the hot topics: the sale,
his son and the Stamps

 

Allen Cameron

Calgary Herald

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

 

"I can tell what kind of mood he's in the moment he walks in the door," confides a co-worker.

Today, Michael Feterik is in a good mood.

Actually, a great mood. Business is positively humming at his Orange County Containers headquarters in City of Industry, a 30-minute drive inland from downtown Los Angeles.

The sometimes mercurial businessman, who built his company from scratch, is in the midst of closing deals to acquire two more factories, the production lines at the pristine 279,000-square-foot plant (three blocks away from

Anthony Calvillo's childhood home) are churning out boxes of all shapes and colours 24 hours a day, six days a week, and to top it off, it's a gorgeous, clear day in SoCal, and a relatively smog-free day to boot, and the mountains glitter in the background.

The misery that was a 4-14 season for the football team some accuse him of ruining seems awfully far away.

In fact, reminders of the Calgary Stampeders are everywhere. The team logo is prominently displayed in the lobby, souvenir helmets and footballs are scattered hither and yon, and even a sparking Cadillac Escalade in the parking lot features a CFL licence plate cover.

The Caddy, as it turns out, belongs to Feterik's son, Kevin -- "he's in the plant somewhere; I can never keep track of him," says Michael.

It's fitting that Kevin remains in the background on this day as his spectre continues to haunt his father's ownership of the team. Like it or not -- be assured, neither Feterik does -- Michael may never escape the accusation from fans and media alike that he simply bought the team so his son could play on it.

With reports of a possible sale of the Stampeders picking up steam, the Herald sat down with Feterik for his first in-depth interview in more than two years. With OCC general counsel Dennis Hegedus sitting close by, here's what Feterik had to say about his past, present and future with the Stamps.

Herald: Where are we at with the sale of the team?

Feterik: Well, if it was happening, there are confidentiality rules and we really couldn't say anything -- either side. We've negotiated with people, even last year. But if I sell the team, it's important that it goes to the right person. It has to be right for the team, right for the community and right for myself, third. If the community wants to step up, fine. But last time (when Feterik purchased the team from Sig Gutsche), it didn't.

Herald: Considering how you built Orange County Container from scratch into a multi-million-dollar company, it must be tempting to hold on to the Stampeders until they've won a Grey Cup just to prove the doubters wrong.

Feterik: You can do that, but I can't have control of the football team like I have control here. I can go out and talk to any manager or anybody who'll listen to me, and the football team is different. When I first got involved, the papers were beating me to death, saying I shouldn't be so involved, let Wally run the team. When you think about it, it really took a lot of nerve to go up and buy that team without knowing anybody. I kept the staff in place until I decided a year or so afterwards what we needed and what we didn't need. You can't change something overnight and expect it to win overnight. But we're ready to win now, and I really believe the fans up there think we're ready to win.

Herald: So do you want to stick around and be a part of that?

Feterik: Well, I'm a little worn out. I'm not as young as I used to be (Feterik is 58) and I'm not as feisty as I used to be. I still enjoy it, but it's tough going up there every week, fighting the international traffic while I'm still expanding our business here.

Herald: You've stated often that the team remains profitable. So why sell, if indeed you are trying to sell the team?

Feterik: Because of my time, it's really that simple.

Herald: When, or if, a sale does come about, do you feel any obligation to sell the team to local owners?

Feterik: I feel it probably should have local ownership, but three years ago, nobody stepped up. People will step up in the United States without any problem, but if I sell this, I want to make sure it's to the right entity.

Herald: If you had equal offers from a local group and a U.S. group, would the Calgary group get it?

Feterik: Oh, of course. No question.

Herald: So the right offer hasn't come along yet?

Feterik: Not at this point.

Herald: It's been reported that you need to sell the team because your business here is struggling financially.

Feterik: I was amazed when I read that. I don't know where the information came from. As you can see, we're overwhelmed with business. We're going 24 hours a day, six days a week, and that's just this factory (OCC has other factories in California and Mexico) and we're in the process of buying two other factories. There's no way we're having troubles.

Herald: It's only natural to dwell on the negatives of teams that have missed the playoffs for three straight seasons. So what have been the positive aspects from your point of view? What do you enjoy most about owning the Stampeders?

Feterik: There are a lot of positives in it. The 23,000 season-ticket holders we have, the 30,000 average attendance per game . . . I've analysed it a lot, and where it went wrong was after the Grey Cup in 2000. We lost a lot of players; Dave Dickenson went to San Diego, Wally (Buono) let (Allen) Pitts go, and that was a sour note for everybody. A couple guys retired and we lost good guys through free agency, and don't ask me why, because Wally could have kept those guys. We had all that Grey Cup money (from hosting in 2000). Then, the next year, we didn't have a very good record but we won the Grey Cup. How we won the Grey Cup was a miracle, and that was probably the worst thing that happened. We had so many problems and they were disguised because we won the Grey Cup. We won six games the next year, and I took a lot of heat because I was making changes. But if you look at last year, we only won four games. But the tail end of the season, the acquisitions of Khari Jones, Joffrey Reynolds, Ronney Jenkins . . . Jenkins is the fastest guy in North America. Now we're in a position to move forward, the way I see it.

Herald: In your view, what went wrong this season? What would you have changed?

Feterik: We weren't a good team going into the year, we really weren't. We thought we were better than we were, and I was really worried about it. We were empty at the quarterback position, the wide receiver position, the running back position. But even with that team, if you look at it we could have won another four or five games. We should have beaten Hamilton; we should have beaten Ottawa twice; we had a chance to beat Montreal earlier in the season; and we should have beaten Wally twice. Give us four or five more wins, we're a playoff team. But we weren't; we were 4-and-14.

Herald: How difficult is it to separate Michael Feterik, the fan, from Michael Feterik, the owner?

Feterik: It's always difficult when you lose games. When you're winning, the beer tastes colder, right? The lousy hotdog you've got is a good hotdog. I enjoy the game, but I don't enjoy losing, and you can see that in this factory. I started this with four employees 24 years ago in a 10,000-square-foot building. We've gone from four employees to 1,150 employees in 24 years.

Herald: There's a school of thought in Calgary that your ownership has been directly responsible for the on-field performance of the Stampeders. Do you accept that premise?

Feterik: I really don't, but ownership has to take responsibility. I'm not running the football team (on the field) and I'm not running the administrative side, I'm not doing the P.R., I'm not telling the wide receiver or the quarterback what play to run. But you have to accept it.

Herald: Are you satisfied that Matt Dunigan can handle three responsibilities (general manager, coach, offensive co-ordinator) or do you want to find someone else to handle at least one of those duties?

Feterik: We discussed it at the Grey Cup. Ron (Rooke, team president), Matt and I sat down, and Matt laid out everything that he did wrong. We all concurred, and we all concurred that it's not going to happen again. But he knew everything that he did wrong from Day 1, through all the games, through the recruiting and salaries. Everything's ironed out. He learned a lot this year. When Matt came in, he was dogged right away because he didn't have any experience. Well, I never had any experience with owning a box plant. You learn, but nobody wants to give anybody the time to learn. Matt will do well this year. He won't be the offensive co-ordinator; we're looking for an offensive co-ordinator and we'll decide, Ron, Matt and I, who the best guy is.

Herald: You had to cut Matt some slack this season because it was his first year. Will there be less slack in the second year?

Feterik: Of course. With any job, whether you're a machine operator or president of the company, we have to win. He will show improvement. We all will have to. I think I've stepped myself up, Ron is stepping himself up, Matt has to step himself up.

Herald: Do you believe it would be different if the team had gone 14-4 last season instead of 4-14?

Feterik: Of course, there's more positives than negatives (when you go 14-4), but still the Kevin Feterik thing is still being brought up. The bad thing about that was this guy was a legitimate player, but people never knew what he really did. He was a Heisman candidate, he was a Davey O'Brien candidate (top U.S. college quarterback), he was all-conference (at Brigham Young), he threw for 8,600 yards as a quarterback. He played in the Sugar Bowl, the Liberty Bowl, the Motor City Bowl. This was a big-time player.

Herald: How tough was it to listen to the criticism that was directed towards Kevin?

Feterik: I wasn't happy about it because I knew he was a legitimate player and he wasn't getting the chance. It went on and on . . . the first year, he was on the practice roster. The second year, he hurt his back and missed the entire season. His third year (2003) was really his first chance to play and he played by default because Marcus (Crandell) went down with an injury. Nobody realizes that Kevin was actually third in the league in passing completion percentage that season, but that's never said. He threw for 1,500 yards and he started four games. But if you read the paper, this was the worst quarterback in the world. Now, let's talk about Joe Paopao's son (Tyler, who was the No. 3 quarterback for a handful of games with the Ottawa Renegades). Nobody really knew it, I never read anything about it in the paper. That was a worse situation with the coach and him both in the locker-room. But the media just beat on Kevin. That's what I feel was unfair. If you want to compare things, that's what you should compare: writers in Calgary and the writers in Ottawa; they gave Joe Paopao slack, and Joe Paopao didn't win any games. Now if Joe Paopao won the Grey Cup with his son there, that's another story.

Herald: In retrospect, do you think people would look at you differently had Kevin never joined the Stampeders?

Feterik: There are a lot of people in Calgary who really like Kevin and know he's a quality ball player. But because of the way the paper painted Kevin, we both got looked at differently. That's why Kevin decided it was best for him to leave the team. I wanted him to stay; quite frankly, he was our best quarterback, and we might not be in the situation we were in this year if he was there. But he's not there, it's behind us. Fred Fateri's not there, Jim Barker's not there, Wally's not there, so I don't know what else I can do but fire myself.

Herald: Speaking of Kevin, what's in his football future?

Feterik: He's working out; they want him back in San Diego (in the Arena2 league), but he's trying out for some (Arena Football League, a notch higher than Arena2) teams and there are two teams interested in Canada.

Herald: What is the status of the Fred Fateri lawsuit (for wrongful dismissal)? Are there, as has been reported, other lawsuits pending against the team?

Feterik: We're just waiting for a trial date. Or a settlement. Whichever comes first. And there are no other lawsuits. The Chuckwagon Catering suit got settled months ago.

Herald: You've referred in the past to your ownership of the Stampeders as being a public trust. And yet fans seem to be disenchanted, as evidenced by the shrinking number of people actually attending games. How do you plan to rebuild that public trust?

Feterik: Well, we've done that by showing the public that we went out and spent top-line money on Khari Jones, who's a quality player. We won our last two home games, and we beat the teams that were in the Grey Cup. We were a good team at the end of the season, and now we're coming together. We have a running game, we have Joffrey Reynolds and Ronney Jenkins, and people see this. Look at Nik (Lewis), rookie of the year. John Grace, runner-up for defensive player of the year. That's how we're going to do it. We're putting people in place, and we're still doing it. Denny Creehan, the defensive genius. People see what we've done, and last year, it wasn't there.

Herald: You confirmed a year ago that there was talk of building a new stadium near the airport. Has anything come of that or is it a dead issue?

Feterik: We were thinking about that. It was something I sort of got myself talked into, but we can't do that. The McMahon Stadium society has treated us real well. We had some problems in the beginning, but we're on the same level right now.

Herald: You referred to the possibility of Calgary hosting a Grey Cup in 2007 or 2008. Is that ironclad?

Feterik: Nothing's for sure; Toronto could jump in at any time and take one. But they won't take one until they get their new stadium. The league wants to go on a rotating basis, that's the only fair thing. We already have it all laid out and we'll be the first ones to have our bid in. It may get pushed to '09, who knows?

Herald: The league in general seems to be as healthy as it's been since you took over the Stampeders; which isn't to say everything is perfect. As you all too well know, the officiating was inconsistent to say the least. What changes would you like to see made in that department?

Feterik: Everybody says let's have instant replay. Well, you can't have instant replay because all we'll be doing is watching instant replay because there are problems. We've got to train the officials. We have to spend more money on it, that's all there is to it. I want to allocate $300,000 or $400,000 for the league to train them. It's a must. Then, down the road, we can do replays. But there's no sense doing replays now.

Herald: Where do you stand on expansion?

Feterik: (Commissioner) Tom Wright is working on expansion. We have to have 10 teams; where we go, I don't know the cities that well, but it has to be somewhere in the East.

Herald: Is the U.S. an option?

Feterik: That's up to the commissioner. If it's done right . . . you don't throw four teams into the U.S. You put one in the Detroit area near Windsor, maybe one in Montana. Something subtle. It wasn't done right before. If it was done right, we'd be getting more U.S. money.

Herald: What's the biggest issue facing the CFL today?

Feterik: Just getting more revenue for all the teams. We have so many players making $38,000, $39,000 and costs keep going up, medical insurance, the pension plan, and it's hard for these teams that don't draw 30,000 a game to not lose a million dollars. But everybody's in good shape right now. The only team having trouble is Ottawa because of their ownership split, but I still think that could be a solid franchise.

Herald: What about the salary cap?

Feterik: I believe in the salary cap. And just like Ron Rooke got fined for what he said (Rooke was fined for violating tampering rules after publicly announcing the team was interested in Henry Burris), I believe in that, too. Ron shouldn't have said that. That's fine. If we go to a salary cap, there has to be rules and the commissioner has to set the rules. If you go $200,000 over the salary cap, you may have to pay the league 20 per cent back. I mean, you have to have a cap, but it has to be enforced -- for the good of the league. We overspent the year before (2003), we overpaid players that we shouldn't have, like that defensive back (Davis Sanchez) who got all that money. That was a killer and then we didn't have any money to put in our offence. It was awful, and he didn't do anything for us.

Herald: If a sale does come down, what would miss most about being owner of the Stampeders?

Feterik: I'm a competitor, and I like watching football and I like watching my own team.

Herald: Conversely, what would you miss the least?

Feterik (chuckling): Probably the nagging of the newspapers. You need the media, but you can only beat somebody to death so much. I really believe that I've been beaten to death. Did I deserve it when I made some changes? Yeah. But that's all over. And that's why this year I tried not to say anything about anything.

Herald: What do you see in the future for the Stampeders?

Feterik: Hopefully, a Grey Cup. And make the team the pride of the league so the community can be proud of the team. That's what the community wants -- win some football games and we can be proud.

acameron@theherald.canwest.com

Interview with Michael Feterik

The Calgary Herald 2004