Happy New Year, football fans! As we put away the decorations and dreadfully await the credit card bills that financed the holidays, we find ourselves in a position that has become all too familiar in La Belle Province; the Montreal Alouettes organization are a mess.
When 2019 started, the Alouettes had an owner, president, general manager, head coach and starting quarterback in place. Nobody gave any of these men a hope in hell of bringing this team back to a respectable place.
So as the off-season progressed, we saw the starting quarterback kicked out of the league, the ownership group bail out on the team and the head coach gets turfed six days before the regular season started. That alone should have ensured that this Alouettes team would continue to be a laughingstock and disaster to watch.
But incredibly, the Alouettes started the season 2-2 after Khari Jones became the interim head coach and an injury to anointed starter Antonio Pipkin led to the return of Vernon Adams Jr. as a starting quarterback in the CFL.
That early success gave the CFL (who assumed ownership of the Alouettes when the Wetenhall family decided they lost enough money) the confidence to jettison Kavis Reed and go with a committee to act as general manager for the team. The Alouettes then went out and played an incredible season of football that will not be soon forgotten.
They finished the 2019 campaign with a 10-8 record (their first winning season since 2012!) and playing in their first playoff game since 2014. Even with losing to Edmonton in the Eastern Semi-final, there appeared to be a bright light at the end of a very dark tunnel for the Birds of Prey.
All the while, the league met with numerous suitors looking to become owners of this suddenly exciting football team. With each passing week, it seemed like a group would be vetted but then told by league commissioner Randy Ambrosie that they would not be in consideration as next owners of the Montreal Alouettes.
I had originally surmised that the league would be caretakers for the team in 2019 and that regardless of the outcome of the Alouettes’ season, this league would make a final decision along with a splashy announcement at Grey Cup to name this team’s new owner(s).
That clearly didn’t happen. Nor was there any indication that we’d know even by the end of this calendar year who would be owning this team.
Wisely, the Alouettes’ braintrust did take the interim tag off of Khari Jones as head coach at season’s end and signed him to a multi-year deal. But that of course led to the question of who would be the general manager that would help Khari keep this team competitive?
Jones had been making personnel decisions along with assistant GM Joe Mack and that proved to be a good short-term plan. But any permanent general manager hired would have to be willing to work with Jones and HIS coaching staff.
The Alouettes interviewed several candidates for the vacant GM position, only to have said candidates either decline the position or the Alouettes’ committee (led by president Patrick Boivin under the counsel of CFL Hall of Famer Wally Buono) outwardly decline the position to them.
So with this seeming impasse, the league suspended the search for a GM in Montreal. And with still no ownership answers in sight, they decided to let the other shoe drop and relieve the overmatched Boivin of his duties.
So to recap, the league has eliminated all the elements that led to a bad football team for a number of years but still are no further along as a new calendar year (and decade) starts.
Simply put, the Alouettes on the field were a vastly improved football team. But off the field, they still remain a rudderless ship with no end in sight.
No ownership, no president, no general manger.
No es bueno.
I lay the blame for this continued asshattery squarely at the feet of the Canadian Football League and Randy Ambrosie.
This should have been a slam dunk. Or to use a football analogy, a simple QB sneak into the end zone from the one yard line. Instead, for any number of reasons, this was a bobbled snap that has gone awry.
Were the Alouettes perfect in 2019? Absolutely not. But even if they weren’t trying to, the league and the team put an exciting, interesting product out there that in some instances, should have been able to sell itself to any prospective buyer.
Credit whomever you want for this team’s on-field success, but the fans came back to Percival Molson Stadium and I don’t believe that they left feeling like they didn’t get their money’s worth. Win or lose, the Alouettes were an entertaining team to watch and this stadium was rocking the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the start of the 2010’s.
I’m just baffled as to how or why the CFL and its commissioner still haven’t found a buyer for this franchise. Unless they have purposely overvalued the team based on their successful year and are trying to gouge any would-be new ownership group for all the money that they can.
Allegedly, the Wetenhall family was bleeding money every year in running this franchise and with the other eight teams now helping to pay the bills, you wonder if the league is simply just trying to break even on this foisted investment.
It also doesn’t help when you hear reports of the league and Ambrosie supposedly wanting to have certain people in place rather than allowing the prospective owners to select their own staff. There have been numerous reports of ownership groups not wanting to own the team if they are just going to be told whom to hire in key positions.
To a degree, I can understand why the league and Ambrosie don’t want to sell the Alouettes to just anyone with deep pockets. But even if a prospective owner doesn’t have a wealth of football knowledge, you would assume that they would do their due diligence to hire sound football people in order to build/maintain a winner.
But if truly one of the conditions of sale is ensuring that some of the commish’s football cronies get hired, that really doesn’t bode well for not only the potential success of the Alouettes, but the entire league as well. We can only hope that this is just wild speculation.
To call this whole saga a farce almost seems like an insult to actual farces. You may not like the NFL, but I doubt their commissioner would allow the sale/transferal of ownership for one of their franchises to operate in such a flighty fashion.
But you know who the real losers are here?
It’s the Alouettes fans who have had to endure years of questionable decisions and some really bad football. Then they finally get a football team to believe in, a head coach who has a clue and a starting quarterback that can truly lead this franchise for years to come.
Only to end up more or less back where they started, theoretically speaking.
With no true direction at the very top of the food chain or sense that things are going to run accordingly, how can fans feel confident going forward? This fanbase has been sold a bill of goods before and the fact that anyone stuck around should be considered a minor miracle.
Instead of addressing this ownership issue properly, the commissioner would rather rack up frequent flyer miles and galavant around the world under the guise of developing this “CFL 2.0” initiative. A program that I do believe in long-term, but not at the expense of teams in the league that are barely relevant in the cities they play in.
Between this and the news that the latest collective bargaining agreement STILL hasn’t been completely finalized, I’m really having a hard time believing in the capabilities of this former football player turned executive.
Of course, we’ll never get the true story about what’s going on behind the scenes because accountability is such an ugly word. And this league and its ringleader would rather keep you all in the dark on such matters, hopeful that your undying love for this brand of football supersedes any issues you may find within the structure of the league.
As far as I am concerned, there’s no good reason why this ownership matter shouldn’t have been settled before we rang in the year 2020. Free agency is a month away and the fact that this team has to assume its general manager duties by committee AGAIN is beyond ridiculous.
And you wonder why people dismiss this league as amateur or second-rate? I can’t possibly imagine why!
For shame, Randy Ambrosie. For the sake of all nine teams of this league, be better.
End this charade and do right by Montreal.