Tim Leiweke, former president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, demanded nothing but the best and dared to be bold.
Three years ago, the 60-year-old introduced captain Michael Bradley as a member of Toronto FC in a welcoming party at Real Sports Bar & Grill that was fit for a king.
When Leiweke addressed the packed house of supporters, he had more than just a message to deliver.
“Some people see things as they are and say ‘Why?’ Others dream of what can be and they say ‘Why not.’ Today is why not? Why can’t we be great?” Leiweke said.
While Leiweke is no longer with MLSE, his mindset became the vision of its professional sports teams and the presidents he chose to lead them — Brendan Shanahan of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and Masai Ujiri of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.
But even though Toronto FC president Bill Manning wasn’t a Leiweke hire, he seems to fit the mould as a proven winner at Real Salt Lake, where he led the club to an MLS Cup championship in 2009 and the CONCACAF Champions League final in 2011.
Making his mark
One of the Massapequa, N.Y., native’s first moves — when hired in October 2015 — was to have a trophy case overlooking the main entrance of TFC’s training grounds so that once you walked into the building, you knew how successful the club was.
“To see it everyday, it reminds us what we’re here for,” said defender Drew Moor.
On locker clean out day, Manning said TFC’s equipment manager made sure the MLS Cup was in its case before he walked in.
Home is where the 🏆 is! ❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/FejmeLSrNT
But getting to that final product takes more than fielding the right players.
Manning and his fellow MLSE executives are well aware that everybody needs to be on the same page from top to bottom within their organizations.
“[From] the staff in the kitchen, our equipment managers, our trainers — if you have the wrong apples in those positions, it affects everything,” Manning said.
Picking brains of Ujiri, Shanahan
Manning and his front office are always looking for ways to learn and get better.
His right-hand man, general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, knows the in’s and out’s of the salary cap.
As an attorney, Bezbatchenko negotiated and drafted player contracts as the senior director of player relations and competition with Major League Soccer for three years.
But Manning isn’t afraid to step out of the box and pick the brains of Ujiri and Shanahan for advice if it means getting a step ahead of the competition.
“The first time Brendan and I saw down in his office, we were going to meet for a half hour and it turned out to be a couple of hours — we just exchanged thoughts. I was really interested in how he set up his scouting network and rebuilt that under Mark Hunter,” Manning recalled.
Manning said a camaraderie has developed among the trio over the past couple of years through an understanding of how difficult their jobs can be at times.
There’s a mutual respect and genuine care for each other’s success.
When TFC finally won their first league championship last Saturday, Ujiri was one of the first guys on the field to hug Manning while a text message from Shanahan followed shortly thereafter.
Before last Sunday’s Maple Leafs game against the visiting Edmonton Oilers, Manning and his team were invited for the ceremonial faceoff and gifted customized jerseys, including a “C” on Bradley’s, to which Manning said Shanahan was proud to see.
“I was joking with Shanny post-game, ‘whoever thought they would hear a TFC chant at a Maple Leafs game.’ It was special to me and the players that we were recognized … this is an organization where the Raptors and the Leafs — we root for each other and there are other sports organizations that own multiple teams that can’t say that,” Manning said.