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Montreal Alouettes general manager Jim Popp will not return to the team next year. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Montreal Alouettes general manager Jim Popp will not return to the team next year. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Jim Popp will not return as Alouettes general manager Add to ...

For the first time since the Montreal Alouettes returned to the Canadian Football League 21 seasons ago, they are searching for a new general manager.

Team president Mark Weightman announced Monday that Jim Popp, the architect of three Grey Cup champion teams, has parted ways with the Alouettes under mutual agreement with owners Bob and Andrew Wetenhall.

Weightman hopes to have a new GM in place as soon as possible, but cautioned that some candidates may currently be working for teams that are still playing and cannot be approached until their season is over.

“It’s been a difficult last few years with our results and I think we just mutually agreed that this was the right time to make this change,” said Weightman, whose 7-11 club missed the playoffs for a second year in a row.

Neither Popp nor the team owners were present for the announcement, but Popp issued a statement that said: “When a team doesn’t meet expectations, every general manager and head coach understands that it may be time to make a change. I understand this and wish to thank everyone for a great run in Montreal.

“The City of Montreal will always be very special to me. I got engaged to the most incredible woman here, and my six wonderful children were all born here. I also had the privilege of participating in three Grey Cup parades through the streets of Montreal. I will bring all of these good memories and so many more to my next opportunity in this great sport.”

Popp, 51, has kept a low profile since he was removed as head coach on Sept. 19 in favour of assistant coach and adviser Jacques Chapdelaine. It was Chapdelaine who made the bold decision to cut talented but troublesome receivers Duron Carter and Kenny Stafford.

The team went 4-2 under the new coach. Weightman said it will be up to the new GM to decide if Chapdelaine or any of the other coaches or other football staff return for 2017.

He gave few details of what the team is seeking in a new GM, except that they want one who will bring winning football back to Montreal and who “agrees with management as to the team’s involvement in the community.”

It is uncertain whether the Alouettes will bring in an experienced GM from another club, promote someone from within, or reach out for someone like Montreal native Danny Maciocia, the former Edmonton Eskimos coach and GM who is running the football program at the University of Montreal.

“We prefer not to comment on which names are or aren’t on the list,” said Weightman.

Whoever takes over will have big shoes to fill.

Popp came with the former Baltimore Stallions franchise when it moved in 1996 to Montreal, which had been without CFL football for a decade. He had been GM in Baltimore for two seasons, winning a Grey Cup in 1995.

He built the Alouettes into an Eastern Conference powerhouse, reaching the Grey Cup game eight times between 2000 and 2010 and winning three — in 2002, 2009 and 2010.

The Elkin, N.C. native, whose father Joe Popp was an NFL coach, had a knack for finding strong Canadian and U.S. talent. His teams often dominated on both sides the ball.

“He was willing to go the distance to find players,” Alouettes assistant GM Joey Abrams said of Popp. “That’s his personality.

“He was able to put in hours that other people just can’t. You could watch film and there were things he saw that other people didn’t.”

Popp was less successful as a coach, compiling a regular-season record of 22-36 and 1-4 in the playoffs over four stints in the position.

He took over as coach from the fired Rod Rust with one game left in the 2001 season and moved in again when Don Matthews took ill with four games remaining in the 2006 campaign. He stayed on for 2007 and went 8-10 before bringing in Marc Trestman as head coach.

In 2013, he took over when Dan Hawkins was fired five games into the season and became coach again when Tom Higgins was let go after eight games in 2015.

The Alouettes were looking for continuity when he stayed on to start the 2016 season as coach, but he was removed with a 3-9 record.

As sure an eye as he had for talent at nearly every position, Popp struggled to find quality quarterbacks since he landed Anthony Calvillo from Hamilton in 1998. Since the all-time CFL passing leader retired after the 2013 season, the Alouettes have used a dozen quarterbacks, mostly without success.

However, Popp traded his 2017 first-round draft pick to B.C. for Vernon Adams, who finished this season on a three-game winning run.

It was an emotional day for Weightman, who first worked with Popp in Baltimore. He said there had been discussions for a few weeks over letting Popp go but the decision was only made in the two days leading up to the announcement.

“Sometimes making the right decisions isn’t easy,” he said.

What will happen to Popp is unclear. He reportedly has a year left on his contract and there are no GM vacancies around the CFL at the moment.

Notes: Also Tuesday, Weightman denied reports that the Alouettes had gone over the salary cap. “I don’t know where the rumour of us being over the cap by a significant margin comes from, but I can tell you there is no truth to that whatsoever,” he said.

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