By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Vancouver Whitecaps FC are mourning the passing of well-known British Columbia sports figure Bob Ackles. He was 69.
Considered the most recognizable ambassador of the BC Lions Football Club, Ackles was an integral member of the Lions for 40 years, with his most recent role being president and CEO of the Canadian Football League franchise. He died Sunday morning after suffering a heart attack.
Having started out as the Lions' original water boy in their first-ever season back in 1953, Ackles rose through the ranks to become the club's director of football development in 1966. He was then promoted to assistant general manager in 1971 before becoming the Lions' general manager four years later. In 1985, Ackles helped the club to their first Grey Cup championship in 21 seasons.
In 1986, Ackles moved south to join the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League (NFL), thus temporarily ending his relationship with the Lions after 34 years. In his six years with Cowboys, Ackles held the roles of vice president of pro personnel and vice president of player personnel. Though he left Dallas in 1991, the team he helped assemble went on to win Super Bowl titles in 1993, 1994, and 1996.
He joined the Phoenix Cardinals in 1992 as director of college scouting before receiving a promotion to assistant general manager in 1994. His next NFL stop was the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995, where he was named director of football administration. A year later, Ackles was reunited with former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson at the Miami Dolphins, where he served as director of football operations for five years.
In 2000, Bob was named vice president and general manager of the Las Vegas Outlaws. The appointment put him in the history books as the only man to hold senior executive positions in the CFL, NFL and XFL. With the XFL only lasting a single season in 2001, Ackles found himself out of football for the first time in decades. The opportunity allowed him to further his education, as he enrolled in the Fine Arts program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).
In 2002, Ackles' return to the Lions was capped off with his induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a Builder. In an effort to return the club to its proper place in the community and the CFL, he recruited one of the league’s most successful coaches of all time in Wally Buono, and named him head coach and general manager in 2003.
In 2004, Ackles was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame. Accolades for Ackles' work continued in 2005 when he was honoured with the Jack Diamond Award by the Jewish Community Centre as Sportsman of the Year. He was also a Schenley Award of Excellence winner. In 2006, the Lions captured their fifth Grey Cup championship - the first since his return to Vancouver.
In September 2007, Ackles' highly-anticipated memoir 'The Water Boy' was published. The candid and personal account of his life - including his more than 50 years in professional football - received rave reviews across North America.
In addition to his work with the Lions, Ackles also served on the board of directors for the Vancouver YMCA, the Canadian Tourism Commission, and for the Burnaby Mountain Sport & Medical Centre.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi expressed his shock at the sudden passing of the highly regarded sports executive. "Given the fact that he has been an integral part of the sporting community in this province since the Lions started up, it's a real shock to hear of his passing," Lenarduzzi told whitecapsfc.com on Sunday. "He's been pretty much a constant since the beginning of the Lions, and he had virtually every job possible with them on his way up to the top of the organization. It's a massive loss, and not just for what he has done for the Lions and football in general. He gave back to the community and the Lions are an extension of him in that regard. That kind of embodied the way that he was."
Lenarduzzi admired Ackles' efforts in making the Lions a top CFL club. "Anytime I did meet him, Bob struck me as someone who understood what it took to be a success in the profession that he was in," he said. "He pretty much re-established the franchise prior to going to the NFL, and since coming back to the Lions, he took them from being on their deathbed to being a very solid franchise. His passing is a tragedy and his loss will be a significant one. Our thoughts go out to his family at what has to be a very difficult time for them."
Ackles once summed up his life and career in professional football in the following words. "I look back on my life and my career and feel like the luckiest man in the world," he once said. "Few people get to spend their days doing something they love with those they love."
Ackles is survived by his wife Kay, sons Steve (Sherri) and Scott (Teresa), and grandchildren Robert, Ashley Kyle, Kasey and Robyn.