Not even being at the helm of a landmark victory 24 hours ago was enough for Tom Higgins to stay employed.
The Montreal Alouettes announced that their head coach has been relieved of his duties and for the fourth time in the club’s history, General Manager Jim Popp will take over that position for the remainder of this season. The decision came at the behest of Alouettes owner Robert Wetenhall. Higgins leaves with a 12-14 record as Montreal’s head coach, including one playoff win and one playoff loss. Higgins was also a nominee for the 2014 Annis Stukis award for Coach of the Year after turning the team around from a 1-7 start to an appearance in the Eastern Final.
On the surface, this comes as a complete surprise. While the Alouettes currently sit with a 3-5 record, the team has been better than their record indicates. But with the suspect play-calling this season of OC Turk Schonert, it’s a surprise to many that he too wasn’t let go along with Higgins.
The timing of this move has everyone scratching their head, as this is often when Jim Popp is out scouting NFL training camps. The last thing he wants to do is to add head coaching duties on his to-do list. But once again, he will assume this title like he did when he replaced Rod Rust, Don Matthews, Dan Hawkins and now, Tom Higgins.
What was Higgins’ downfall? It could have been any number of things. There was discord in the locker room regarding the whole Michael Sam fiasco, which lead to John Bowman magically not dressing for the past two games. There was also the revolving door at the Offensive Coordinator position, as it seemed to be a rudderless ship until the midway point of last season.
This year, despite making Schonert the full-time OC, the offence has lacked serious imagination as the team was forced to start a 23 year old rookie to middling success at best. The inability to close out games will destroy the best of careers and Higgins is the latest example of that.
What was most telling was that when Tom Higgins was hired, it was at the behest of the Wetenhall family, who own the Alouettes. There was no consulting of the hire from Jim Popp and it was evident that this was not a preferred move by the architect of this franchise. Popp put on a positive face for the public and went along with the move, perhaps knowing it was doomed to fail.
So where does this team go from here? Popp has never been the solution as a head coach and has stated so on many occasions. He’ll see out the end of the year, then what happens?
My original thought before Tom Higgins was hired was to have Popp stay on as coach for the 2014 season in order to groom current defenisve coordinator Noel Thorpe for the head coaching position. Thorpe has reinvented this team’s identity and other teams would be foolish not to think about having him revitalize their squads. If Noel Thorpe was named head coach and former BC Lions head coach Mike Benevides was named the new DC, I think that would work very well in helping this team maintain its defensive identity while providing solid leadership at each level. Anwar Stewart has also been key in developing defensive talent for Montreal since his retirement and could also be ready to take the next step up.
A lot of people would love to see Paul LaPolice come in as either head coach or OC, but I don’t see him giving up his sweet analyst gig at TSN. I don’t see LaPolice coming into ANY organization for any position below head coach, however. And if he’s head coach, he will want his own staff and not likely retain an Anthony Calvillo, who even more people want bumped up the Montreal coaching food chain despite only being a coach for a few months.
As intelligent as LaPolice is, I can’t see Noel Thorpe being content to work under him. Also, being Assistant Head Coach means that his time to take control is not far. And if it’s not in Montreal, I can see the Roughriders backing up a dump truck full of money to Thorpe’s door once the Grey Cup is handed out.
And no Alouettes Nation, AC or Ben Cahoon or any other ex-players who were awesome when they played here can just waltz in and be the head coach. So you may as well put that dream to bed right now. Players play, coaches coach.
If nothing else, when Jim Popp takes over for an Alouettes team as head coach, the team DOES make the playoffs. They’ve even reached a Grey Cup under his watch back in 2006, which was played in Winnipeg. Hmm, isn’t this year’s Grey Cup played in Winnipeg this year?? Talk about putting all your chips to the middle of the table!
This will definitely make for an interesting week of practice as well as Popp’s re-debut as coach next Thursday in Hamilton. I just wish this team would NOT time its news in conjunction with my publishing of a new blog. But that’s football for you!
GO ALS GO!!!