What this occasion demanded, quite frankly, is name tags.
There is something vaguely reassuring about professional athletes displaying a regular-human level of nervousness and curiosity at the prospect of meeting their new boss.
So it was with the 15 or so members of the Montreal Alouettes who swung by a hotel ballroom to watch the unveiling of the team’s new head coach, Dan Hawkins, and his 11-member staff of assistants.
You had CFL all-star offensive lineman Scott Flory cutting short a conversation to shake hands with new offensive-line coach Frank Verducci (the latter plainly didn’t recognize the former).
Then, there was receiver S.J. Green checking with a reporter to make sure the person he was about to introduce himself to was indeed new receivers coach Erik Campbell.
Still, it was all very convivial and warm, precisely the atmosphere Hawkins and Als general manager Jim Popp appear to be intent on creating.
Hawkins, it should be pointed out, has the energy and easy patter of a particularly gregarious real-estate salesman.
The contrast in styles with former head man Marc Trestman – who cultivated a discreet, understated public persona – is stark.
“Night and day,” starting quarterback Anthony Calvillo observed.
A former ESPN analyst, Hawkins is jokey and outgoing with the media, and where law-school grad Trestman applied a jurist’s calculus to his every move, his successor is a self-described risk-taker.
“Some people are a comfort-zone guy, that’s not me … you get nowhere by playing it safe,” said Hawkins, a logger’s son from Bieber, Calif., population 312. “Coaching in a French-speaking province, in a foreign country, with 12 guys on the field in motion all the time, that’s right up my alley.”
At least part of Hawkins’s remarks were aimed at the players in attendance – he name-checked former Als receiver Ben Cahoon and promised not to stretch the CFL’s 4 1/2-hour practice limit – and he pledged to take his players’ strengths and desires into account in crafting the offence, which will be based on Trestman’s.
“Every good coach believes he’s the servant of the player,” he said.
And the early reviews from the players in attendance suggest Hawkins made a strong first impression.
“It’s our turn as players to buy into what Dan brings to the table,” the 40-year-old Calvillo said, who had an almost symbiotic relationship with Trestman.
What the 52-year-old brings is lengthy experience in the U.S. college ranks.
Hawkins had a wildly successful five years at Boise State University, leading the school to four bowl games, but a markedly less-happy tenure at his next coaching stop, the University of Colorado.
In 2010, he was fired after four losing years in Boulder, Colo., amid grumbles of nepotism – his son, Cody, was the starting quarterback.
Hawkins pointed out once he benched his oldest boy, and said of those years: “You fail, you learn, you get back up and you roll.”
So what makes Hawkins the right man for the Als?
“Chemistry,” Popp said, “whatever coaching staff or players we bring in, he’ll pull them together.”
And choosing a man with a boisterous personality was a deliberate move.
“You have to look at your locker room, what the players are about, what they’ve become accustomed to, what they’ve gotten numb to. When you have someone who is different, whether it’s slightly or a lot, it grabs attention real quick,” Popp said. “I think it’s welcomed.”
In replacing Trestman, a cerebral offensive guru who now coaches the Chicago Bears of the NFL, the Als brain trust set out several criteria: the new sideline boss would be a strong communicator, he’d be willing to branch out into community initiatives, and he’d be able to pull together a top-notch group of assistants.
On the latter score, the Hawkins hire was an illustration of how close-knit the football coaching world remains.
While Popp and Hawkins aren’t friends, exactly, they have been acquainted for several years.
They have a mutual friend from Hawkins’s days at University of California-Davis in the 1980s, and Hawkins later popped up on the Alouettes radar while coaching at Willamette University, an NCAA Division II school in Oregon.
The two stayed in touch over the years and last winter Hawkins was brought in for some preseason brainstorming with Trestman, and volunteered to be an assistant coach.
Trestman demurred, but Hawkins visited Als training camp in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and spent a few days touring Montreal with his wife, Misti.
In the end, Popp said, the decision came down to wanting an experienced, hungry leader.
“We wanted someone who is passionate and who wants to be here,” the GM said. “There’s no one who wanted this job more than Dan Hawkins.”