Never a dull moment in Alouettes Nation, that’s for sure.
This week alone has seen a golf tournament, major personnel changes and even more questions swirling around this Montreal Alouettes franchise than ever before. Even as someone who often craves excitement, I’d be ready for a bland, nothing week of news before an important divisional match after what transpired.
For the third time in as many years, the Montreal Alouettes have relieved their head coach of his duties. Jacques Chapdelaine was expected to be the steady hand that would guide the Alouettes back to glory after assuming the role late last year, Under his watch, the Alouettes went 4-2 to finish the 2016 season and despite missing the playoffs again, gave a tiny bit of hope that some stability would finally come after the past three seasons of upheaval.
Retaining Chapdelaine as head coach became imperative, so much so that it was essentially an unwritten rule when the team was looking for Jim Popp‘s replacement as general manager. The day that Kavis Reed was formally introduced as the new Alouettes GM was also the day that Chapdelaine had the interim tag removed from his head coaching title.
It seemed after years of hiring ex-NCAA coaches who knew nothing about the CFL, coaches who were past their prime and saddling Jim Popp with baling water from this sinking ship time and time again, it appeared that the Montreal Alouettes finally had themselves a head coach with CFL experience that could provide this team with something it has lacked in recent years: an offense that can compete in this league.
So what happened? It would appear that not only did this team have its crown jewel, but was able to add several more shiny pieces as well. The addition of stars like Darian Durant and Ernest Jackson to go with established Alouettes like Nik Lewis and Tyrell Sutton should have made this team a complete threat to rack up points every single time they took the field.
Instead, Alouettes fans watched on in horror as a slew of Grey Cup champions struggled to move the ball downfield time and time again. No matter who Durant tried to complete passes to, it was met with resistance and opposing defenses were having a field day with this pedantic attack. This Chapdelaine-designed offense was about as exciting as a bowl of oatmeal.
And if you can’t score points, you can’t win games in this league. At first the Alouettes’ losses were hard-fought and could have easily gone the other way with a few breaks here and there. But as these losses started to mount and team confidence was sinking, the points against starting mounting and the L’s were a lot more lop-sided.
When your star quarterback leads the CFL in interceptions, there’s no way you can expect to be winning. If you win the turnover battle, you win the game. But you can almost set your watch to when Durant would make a poorly-timed throw directly into an opposing player’s hands. Combine that with a defeatist attitude and the inability to get over these mental errors, it’s easy to see why the losses kept coming.
When you also lose 38-6 and 32-4 to divisional opponents, that’s also a very telling sign. This was a Montreal Alouettes team with no heart and no direction.The last straw came as it often has during the team’s last trip to Vancouver for their annual beatdown by the BC Lions. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong and Andrew Wetenhall, the face of ownership and lead governor for the Alouettes, had seen enough.
During this past Tuesday’s annual charity golf tournament, the son of Alouettes owner Bob Wetenhall made statements to the media that strongly suggested that everyone who was associated with this current state of this team was on the hot seat. That no one’s job was safe so long as the Alouettes would keep losing the way they have been.
This was a team that was expected to not only compete this season, but dominate. In an Eastern division that has looked flat-out awful this year, it’s remarkable that despite being 3-8, the Alouettes are very much still in the playoff picture. Don’t forget, whoever finishes 1 and 2 in the Eastern division not only qualifies for the Grey Cup playoffs, but they will each get to host a game as well!
But the younger Wetenhall had to watch this team once again become a laughingstock in the Canadian Football League. Despite the fact that he effectively signed off on these wholesale changes this past off-season, he saw the writing on the wall and this team made some tough decisions this past Wednesday.
Not only was Chapdelaine told to pack his bags, but assistant head coach and defense coordinator Noel Thorpe was also shown the door. A lot of people were surprised as the defense has really been the only bright spot on this Alouettes team since 2013. Thorpe took a team that was an offensive dynamo and reinvented it as the standard for defensive play in the CFL.
But despite that great success, the Alouettes themselves didn’t feel like Thorpe could be trusted to lead this team overall. After being passed over numerous times for the head coaching role, Thorpe himself had enough in late 2015 and resigned in order to take over the DC duties for the Edmonton Eskimos.
It took the league to intervene and force both Thorpe and the Alouettes to honour the contract between the two. Since that point, Thorpe has done his job and continued to make this defense a feared one but it was pretty well a foregone conclusion that once this 2017 season was finished, so was Noel Thorpe’s time in Montreal.
The news of Chapdelaine & Thorpe’s dismissal was met with a lot of shock, confusion and even some joy from bitter ex co-workers as both of these men rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and seeing them lose their jobs was a great relief for them.
A number of Francophone journalists also wanted to decry the Alouettes for firing Chapdelaine due to the fact that someone who spoke their language was let go. After all, how dare a Montreal-based sports team NOT have a head coach who speaks French?! Disregard that most of these journalistic types are just killing time until training camp starts up for the Montreal Canadiens and likely couldn’t even name five players on the Alouettes at any given moment.
Jacques Chapdelaine wasn’t fired because of what language he spoke. He was fired because it was HIS job to get the most out of these football players and he didn’t. Alouettes fans were promised an exciting, dynamic team and instead we got this pathetic display day in and day out. Regardless of the language he spoke.
Both Chapdelaine and Thorpe lost the room and its players and that is why this team is where it’s at now. Unless they were going to give him the head coaching position, there was no way that Noel Thorpe would have stuck around anyways.
Sometimes you are better just to cut your losses and start over, which at this rate is likely what this team would have done anyways at season’s end.
So now we are back to the same old tricks as before. The general manager will become the head coach on an “interim” basis, a stunt that was to have stopped with Jim Popp’s leaving last year. Kavis Reed will be the one leading this team with QB coach Anthony Calvillo back to calling plays. Defensive assistant Greg Quick will serve as defensive coordinator for the rest of the season, a title he once held with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
We’ve also learned that Jason Hogan, another defensive assistant, will effectively replace Justin Chapdelaine as receivers coach as the son of Jacques appears to have decided that he doesn’t want to be on this team if his father isn’t in charge. Not a very good look for the younger Chapdelaine, as many have speculated that the only reason he had this coaching gig in the first place was due to his father.
So what does all this mean going forward? That this team is and shall remain a mess until Andrew Wetenhall finally decides to stop meddling in his football team’s decisions.
I have no doubt in my mind that like his father, Andrew loves football and wants to be considered a success at it. But Bob Wetenhall had enough presence of mind to hire the right football people and let them make the on-field decisions. The last three years have not been kind to Jim Popp, but no one can deny that the years 1996-2013 had a lot more things go right than go wrong with him at the helm.
It was in 2013 that the younger Wetenhall started interjecting his thoughts into the running of this team and look what has happened since. Some very questionable hires have led to this current state of affairs and with the wrong people making football decisions, it was often left to Popp to come in and “save the day”.
Which he was able to do in the past when he hired Don Matthews in late 2001 and Marc Trestman in early 2008. Funny how when you let an actual football mind make football decisions, good things tend to happen. When the Wetenhall family has forced Popp (and now Reed) to go along with their choices, that tends to blow up in their faces.
I do have tremendous respect for the Wetenhall family as they are the only reason why we are still able to support a football team in Montreal. They have poured a LOT of money into the maintenance of this franchise and even as Bob Wetenhall’s health remains a major question mark, the family has stated on numerous occasions that they have no plans to sell. The Wetenhall family wants to ensure that the Alouettes are a part of this city’s sports landscape for years to come, regardless of the cost.
But this ownership group has to stop getting in the way of its team’s success. To them, I say: Swallow your pride and let your football people make the football decisions. You may think hiring Coach X will be the right call but if your people don’t agree, then you have to trust that they know a little bit about what they are talking about. Otherwise, why did YOU hire them in the first place?
It’s easy to blame all of the Alouettes’ on-field woes on the hiring of Kavis Reed and Jacques Chapdelaine, but let’s not forget that it was Andrew Wetenhall who green-lit all of these choices. So as much as Andrew wants to make all his strong statements about the safety of one’s job, it was HIM who wanted Chapdelaine in place and was willing to bypass more qualified people in order to ensure that happened when this team was searching for Jim Popp’s replacement.
While having a bilingual coach is a nice bonus in the province of Quebec, no one was buying Alouettes season tickets based on the language of ANYONE in this team’s administration. You know what sells season tickets? WINNING FOOTBALL GAMES. That should always be the goal of anyone who is hired by this team and any other franchise in the Canadian Football League.
If you want yes-men who will kowtow to you, you can have them. But there’s no guarantee that it will produce the results you want. Once again, this Montreal Alouettes football team finds itself chasing its own tail. A far cry from years gone by. And perhaps that’s the part that stings most for Alouettes fans; they are not used to such disorganization and malaise from the team they love.
How you expect them to accept failure when you spent 17 of the past 22 years giving them mostly successful football to support? Success in sports is expected to be cyclical; there are supposed to be up years and down years. But until recently, the years have been mostly up for Alouettes Nation.
So yeah, these fans really don’t know how to accept failure. And have it repeated ad nauseum.
So now it will be up to Kavis Reed to save the day for the Wetenhall family because the former go-to guy is now in Toronto trying to restore glory to the Argonauts. This is Kavis’ get out of jail free card. Now he has to be trusted with finding the right pieces for the puzzle. He likely won’t be given the chance to make any mistakes with his next hires, should he be actually allowed to hire people.
It’s my hope that if Reed is truly who the Wetenhall family believes in, that he allowed to completely scrub this coaching lineup clean and make a fresh start with the people HE wants to put in place, not be forced to draw from a poisoned well and deal with the baggage that came from the glory years of this team’s past.
Can Reed right the ship and will he be given the chance to bring in the right people? Only time will tell. This mess didn’t happen overnight and it surely won’t be fixed overnight either.
Oh yeah, there’s a football game tomorrow afternoon as well. Montreal plays the RedBlacks at Percival Molson Stadium, Drew Tate starts for Ottawa and pretty much any preview I could do went out the window when all this news came about.
Wear your grey alternate jerseys if you want and be ready for the flyover of CF-18 planes from the RCAF 425 Squadron before the game. Be sure to listen to the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast on iTunes or Google Play Music and follow me on Twitter for game day thoughts and such.
As always, thanks for reading.