The last time the Montreal Alouettes went through this, the short-list of candidates was announced, a fancy ballroom was booked, and the chosen one unveiled amid the usual pomp.
It was an event befitting an auspicious occasion – it’s not every day the CFL’s glamour team hires a head coach.
Contrast it with this time out: A press release, to be followed by a conference call Tuesday – one that isn’t scheduled to include the general manager responsible for last year’s process.
True, the 21st head coach in the history of the Als, Tom Higgins, doesn’t require as much of an introduction as last year’s flop, Dan Hawkins.
The cynical position is Als owner Robert Wetenhall figured there was no point in sticking with past practice. Hawkins, a U.S. college coach with no pro experience, was turfed after five games in charge, and there is no evidence to suggest firing him was a bad decision.
Higgins, meanwhile, is a long-time coach and football executive who returns to the sideline after a stint as the CFL’s head of officiating, a position he resigned from last fall.
Whereas Hawkins, a glib former television pundit, was a CFL neophyte, Higgins, 59, is as experienced and battle-tested a candidate as there is. He played linebacker for the Calgary Stampeders (a team he later coached) and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, he has been a head coach and a GM in the CFL, winning the 2003 Grey Cup with the Edmonton Eskimos.
He succeeds GM Jim Popp, who stepped in as interim head coach when Hawkins was fired.
“I wanted to continue with the formula, which has brought us the success we’ve enjoyed these past 17 years; having a full-time head coach and a full-time general manager to fill each of these positions,” Wetenhall said in the team-issued release. “The criteria we established for our next head coach was to find an individual familiar with the CFL; someone with success in that position and a background as a position coach. In addition, we sought an individual with a record for moulding and delivering championship teams.”
Interestingly, the release issued by the team makes no mention of Popp; the North Carolina native couldn’t be reached for comment, but it’s believed he wasn’t involved in the Higgins hiring.
Popp, who is under contract through 2014, has long said he prefers the front office to the sideline, but when quarterback Anthony Calvillo announced his retirement this off-season, Popp indicated he was interested in carrying on as coach.
Thus, the Higgins hiring – and the way it was done – will inevitably raise questions about Popp’s future with the club.
It’s another stark contrast for a club that has relied heavily on Popp’s talent-spotting ability for 17 years.