CFL

Suitor: Alouettes' issues two years in the making

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Glen Suitor
8/4/2014 10:54:39 PM
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Two off-seasons ago, the Alouettes were told by then head coach Marc Trestman that he would be leaving to take a job with the Chicago Bears. Trestman had led the team to Grey Cup championships in 2009 and 2010 so it is not a stretch to think that ownership in Montreal was looking for the next Marc Trestman when they got the news. The search for a new head coach began immediately, and there were some big names on the list of potential candidates.

However, whenever there is a coaching change with an organization, time is of the essence because there are only so many jobs each off-season, and coaches have to take the opportunities while they can, or lose them, and be out of work.

Montreal settled on Dan Hawkins and everyone knows how that worked out. The plan was for Hawkins to run Trestman's offence, and Anthony Calvillo would be asked to coach the coach. For a variety of reasons, that didn't work, and Hawkins tried to implement his own system, which also failed, and he was let go early in the season.

Against some tough odds, general manager Jim Popp was asked to step in and try and pull things back together. Popp would have to put in a new system, change the terminology, find some assistants that could help, get an inexperienced Troy Smith up to speed, and find a way to make the playoffs. It was a goal that seemed almost impossible, but the Als got there, and in fact were one controversial play away from advancing to the Eastern Final.

Fast forward to this past off-season. Now ownership is trying to decide if Popp should continue to coach the team and have the dual role or if they should go back to the proven model of hiring two separate people as their GM and head coach, which has been the formula that got them to five Grey Cups in the last 10 years.

Also while this is happening, the organization is trying to fill other vacated holes in the staff. Remember Trestman took a lot of his assistants with him to Chicago. Scott Milanovich had moved on to Toronto earlier, and Marcus Brady had gone with him. In fact, it has been estimated that there are over 60 front office staff, coaches, and players currently working in the CFL that went though Montreal; a compliment to the organization, but over the last two years, an issue that is catching up to them.

So this past off-season, ownership is contemplating whether Jim Popp should continue coaching, while they are compiling a list of possible candidates, and time was again slipping away. When Tom Higgins was finally announced, which was a decision by ownership, not by GM Jim Popp, a reporter asked if Higgins reminded ownership of Marc Trestman, and Bob Wetenhall's son Andrew answered in the affirmative, which suggests that ownership was taking their time because they were looking for the next Trestman.

Now Higgins assembles his staff and hires Rick Worman to be his offensive coordinator to work with a young Ryan Dinwiddie whom has shown great potential, but is inexperienced as a coordinator. Worman again changes the terminology, and the offence, but depending on which story you believe, butts heads with staff and some players, and doesn't work out. So prior to the team kicking off the regular season, Dinwiddie, who again many think will be a great coordinator some day, is forced to leave the spotters booth, head to the sideline and, once again rework the offence.

So the Als head into the regular season with an inexperienced Troy Smith who has been asked to learn three different offences in a span of about 10 months. Not surprisingly, the team starts the season 1-4 and struggles putting any points on the board. Interestingly enough, it is Smith that takes all the heat for the team's problems, with many people, including his head coach Tom Higgins, saying he just isn't playing well enough to give the team a chance to win. It is interesting because in last week's loss to Toronto, Smith was pulled and Alex Brink went 9-for-23 for 60 yards and an interception, which would indicate that, while jury still may be out on Smith, he certainly isn't the real problem.

On Monday, Montreal announced that former Stampeder Jeff Garcia was being brought in to help kick-start the offence, and joins Don Matthews and Turk Schonert, as consultants. Garcia should help Troy Smith in a huge way, however the new coaches also means that there will be yet again a new offensive system for the Heisman Trophy winner, and both Tanner Marsh and Alex Brink to learn. The fact that so much is being done to help Tom Higgins shouldn't surprise anyone; remember Higgins was hired by ownership so clearly they want to give Higgins as much help as possible before even contemplating another mid-season head coaching change.

So it will be the fourth offensive system in 10 months, new terminology, and back to basics for three quarterbacks whose heads must be spinning. The good news for Montreal fans is that the East is up for grabs and a couple of wins can get you on top of the division in a hurry. However, the struggles that the Als are facing have less to do with an inexperienced quarterback and more to do with ownership trying to hire the next Trestman.

Marc Trestman is a great coach; a quarterback expert that was an excellent communicator and humble enough to understand that you are always learning. However, there is only one Marc Trestman and trying to find the next one has put this team in catch-up mode for going on two years now.

Dan Hawkins (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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