Friday, March 18, 2016
ALOUETTES LOOK TO GET BACK ON TRACK
So most of the same group that ended the 2015 season, one that saw Montreal (6-12) miss the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, is back. It starts with head coach/GM Jim Popp.
The hope is continuity will result in more wins in 2016.
"Having changes of the head coach and the co-ordinators doesn't help,'' Popp said this week as the coaches met with reporters at the team's Olympic Stadium locker room. "Consistency and having a lot of the same people is much better, there's no question.''
Coaching has been a mess since Marc Trestman's five-year tenure (which resulted in two Grey Cup wins) ended after the 2012 campaign.
The following season, Dan Hawkins lasted only five games before Popp had to step in.
Tom Higgins got through a 9-9 season in 2014 but then was fired after eight games last season as Popp returned to the sidelines.
Popp remains as head coach and with the acquisition of veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn to stabilize the other position that has been like a revolving door in recent seasons, the hope is all is settled _ even if there may be land mines buried under the surface.
Popp has his three co-ordinators back but he needed to hold defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe to the final year of his contract to prevent him from jumping to the Edmonton Eskimos. And there are now two assistant head coaches - Thorpe and special teams co-ordinator Kavis Reed.
The person many see as the head coach in waiting is former star quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who was promoted to offensive co-ordinator when Popp fired Turk Schonert in mid-season.
"Is Anthony Calvillo going to be a head coach, or head coach of the Montreal Alouettes? I hope he is one day,'' said Popp. "What the time frame is for that, I don't know.''
Former offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine was hired as an adviser to Calvillo while also handling a receiving corps boosted by the return of Duran Carter and Kenny Stafford.
Greg Quick has returned as linebackers coach after a year with Saskatchewan, while Anwar Stewart was promoted to defensive line coach. Offensive line coach Kris Sweet and special teams assistant Andre Bolduc are also back.
Whether it all works will play out on the field. Popp has taken over as head coach four times in his 20 years as GM, but has a 19-27 regular-season record and is 1-4 in the playoffs. The last time he coached a full season in 2007, Montreal went 8-10 and lost its only playoff game.
The pressure is on after the grim 2015 campaign. It was a stunning setback for a club that has been the class of the East Division for most of the last two decades, making eight trips to the Grey Cup game, winning three times.
But the Alouettes have not been to the championship game since winning a second straight Grey Cup in 2010.
"It's just pressure,'' said Popp. "We've created a winning tradition here.
"We've set high expectations. We want to play well and be held to a high standard.''
There are promising signs. A swarming defence has been Montreal's strength through recent troubles. Reed got the special teams on track last season, especially with the arrival of veteran returner Stefan Logan.
The hope is Glenn can get the offence going. The team fell apart last season when starter Jonathan Crompton and backup Dan LeFevour were injured in the season opener. Then came Rakeem Cato, Canadian Brandon Bridge, Anthony Boone and Tajh Boyd.
Who'll step in if Glenn is injured, or when the 36-year-old retires, is to be decided.
"The good thing is we had a lot of guys play quarterback last year and that's the only way to truly see what you've got,'' said Calvillo. "Now we have a veteran that's going to bring them along faster.
"When Kevin arrived, they were able to see how quickly the ball gets out of a quarterbacks' hand instead of me trying to explain that to them.''