The ALSternative — 2018 Season Preview Part 1

Another season of Canadian football is upon us. And as I reflect back on this most recent off-season, I wonder just how far we’ve come along and just how much further there is to go for the Montreal Alouettes

Last year saw a new era embark for the Birds of Prey…. and it was not very well-received by many of the team’s loyal fans. A lot of fan favourites were jettisoned and even the most dedicated of fans were put to the test as the 2017 Alouettes fell to depths that were once upon a time simply unimaginable.

The Alouettes haven’t had a winning regular season record since 2012, when they were a bounced pass away from returning to the Grey Cup. Not even a miraculous late season run in 2014 could serve as a building block towards something better for this organization. Instead, mismanagement and desperation to recapture the glory of years past has led to far more misses than hits.

Last year was truly spectacular in terms of falling from grace, as the Als could only muster three wins out of a possible eighteen. They ended the season on an 11 game losing streak and even failed to notch a single point in their swan song game versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The Alouettes, once the envy of everyone in the Canadian Football League, were now considered a laughingstock nation-wide.

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So how does rookie general manager Kavis Reed remedy this malaise? Based on how poorly the team did when he wasn’t initially given the chance to hire his own head coach, Reed had to hit a home run with HIS choice as field boss. And as it was proven over the last seven games of the season, Kavis is not the one who can be the boss on the field.

After a thorough search that saw many potential candidates withdraw their application, Reed chose former NFL head coach Mike Sherman as the man who will lead the Montreal Alouettes on game day. Sherman does have a wealth of coaching experience, but none in the CFL. Reed is betting that Sherman’s football acumen and work with Hall of Famer Brett Favre will be just what this once-proud team needs to get itself back on track.

Naturally, bringing in a head coach with zero CFL experience has its benefits and its drawbacks. The Alouettes have seen this sort of personnel move work out brilliantly (See Trestman, Marc) and fail miserably (See Hawkins, Dan). The main reason why one succeeded and the other failed was the knowledge of the support staff around them. If you don’t know any of the nuances of the Canadian game, then you’d be wise to surround yourself with position coaches that do.

Yes, “football is football” but there’s a reason why of the two former head coaches mentioned, one is the current coach of the defending Grey Cup champions and the other is not even in the league. Both Reed and Sherman had to have learned this history lesson and ensured that this new Alouettes coaching staff has plenty of CFL experience.

For the first time in what feels like forever, the Montreal Alouettes have an actual offensive coordinator with CFL experience. Khari Jones is a former CFL Most Outstanding Player and had himself a fine career as a CFL quarterback before making the move to coaching. He’s been the OC for the BC Lions for the past 4 years and is ready for the challenge of making this Alouettes team score points again.

Already, Jones has drawn terrific reviews for his playbook and how he worked with his players at April’s mini-camp in Florida. He will also serve as Quarterbacks coach and will certainly have his work cut out for him, as there is currently no clear-cut starting QB on this team just yet. After years of bland, predictable play-calling from such “luminaries” as Mike MillerTurk Schonert and even Alouettes legend Anthony Calvillo, this team is desperate for a new source of creative offensive input.

Defensively, this team was supposed to be led by former Calgary Stampeders DB coach and former Alouette player Khalil Carter. But he abruptly stepped away from this role and will instead serve the team as a scout. Replacing him as defensive coordinator is Rich Stubler, who was already hired on by Montreal as special advisor to the defensive coordinator.

There are reports surfacing now that Carter was allegedly difficult to work with and that is the real reason why he will not serve as Alouettes’ DC. Stubler does have many years experience as a defensive coordinator for other teams and has won multiple Grey Cups as a result. Time will tell if players will still buy in to Stubler delivering what is essentially Carter’s manifesto.

Without question, the biggest Achilles heel for the Alouettes the past decade has been special teams. As the former special teams coach himself, Kavis knows and can appreciate just how crucial this position is. So he went and acquired the services of one of the brightest minds in USports coaching with the hiring of Mickey Donovan, former head coach of the Concordia Stingers.

To me, this is the biggest wild card when it comes to this coaching staff. Donovan has had a lot of success at the collegiate level both as a player and coach. This will be his first taste at the professional level and Donovan will be expected to relate to his players right away, only being a few years older than them. Perhaps the previous years of ineptitude will work in Donovan’s favour. With the bar set so low, any success on special teams will be considered a major improvement for the Alouettes.

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I’d like to take this opportunity to address my thoughts on the departure of Anthony Calvillo from the Montreal Alouettes, one of the many off-season changes that happened over this past winter. After serving as a coach for Montreal in many different forms since 2015, Calvillo made the decision to take some time away. I applauded him for that as I simply felt that from day one, his coaching career for the Alouettes has had far too many setbacks.

As long as AC was a member of this Alouettes staff, he was never going to improve as a coach. Simple as that. I don’t blame him for the woes that this team has suffered on the field and not should anyone else. And while it’s currently the fashion for everyone and their mother to blame Kavis Reed for every bad thing that has happened to the Alouettes, Calvillo’s demise started long before the arrival of the current GM.

Saddled with no coaching mentorship and thrust into an offensive coordinator role in his very first season, Calvillo found himself in a deep hole that he kept trying to dig his way out of. And as things worsened for the Alouettes, everyone kept looking to Anthony for answers that he clearly didn’t have. As brilliant a playing career as he had, that simply didn’t translate to coaching and no matter how hard AC tried to be the saviour, he just couldn’t be. Nor should have he ever been put in the position to be in the first place.

This is going to be a bitter pill for Alouettes fans to swallow but as long as AC was a part of this current Alouettes regime, he was only going to get WORSE as a coach. He had to see the writing on the wall and that had to be the only reason why he walked away from the organization that he led to so much success on the field. Deep down, I think Alouettes fans knew this too and the love for AC blinded them to that sobering fact.

Calvillo originally stated that he wanted to take time off and be with his family. But then a spot on the Toronto Argonauts coaching staff opened up and AC’s former head coach and general manager came calling. The prospect of working alongside both Marc Trestman and Jim Popp once again was the proverbial offer that couldn’t be refused. On top of that, add the prospect of being able to coach a living legend in Ricky Ray and the end result is Montreal’s beloved #13 now wearing Double Blue.

In truth, I am thrilled for Calvillo and if you value him as a player, coach or even a human being, you should be thrilled for him too. AC was done a tremendous disservice here in Montreal and if he is ever going to become a worthwhile coach, he HAD to leave. I would have preferred to see him take a step back and coach at the high school/collegiate level, but this opportunity with the Argos is a prime one for Anthony.

His shortcomings will be well-hidden by Trestman, Popp and to a lesser extent, Ray. No one in “The 6ix” is expecting Calvillo to salvage this Argos franchise or be something that he’s not. Anthony will get the chance to do what he loves and he can grow as a coach at his own pace.

Only time will tell if AC ever becomes a successful coach in this league. The environment in Toronto is a far better one for his career and as much as it may hurt Alouettes fans to come to terms with that, they will just have to accept it as such.

Anthony Calvillo will always be our quarterback, Alouettes Nation. He just can’t be the coach that this team needed him to be.

Just getting started!

Over the next few days, I will be taking a look at the moves that the Montreal Alouettes made during the off-season as well as how they will factor into the 2018 version of this team.

When you post a 3-15 record, changes HAVE to be made. Montreal has added some new faces and said goodbye to some old ones. As we do here at The ALSternative, we’ll examine the offense, defense and special teams. Say what you will about the job Kavis Reed has done thus far, but one cannot deny that the attempt to make this team better via free agency and the CFL Draft has been made.

The key will be whether all this talent will come together for the Alouettes. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, as there’s a lot to sift through in the days leading up to Sunday and the opening of training camp.

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I’ll be back tomorrow to start breaking down this Montreal Alouettes team, piece by piece. Be sure to follow along on Twitter for more info leading up to camp.

Until then and officially for the first time this 2018 Canadian Football League season,

GO ALS GO!!!

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