Marcel Desjardins has no problem being the face of Ottawa’s new CFL franchise.
The 46-year-old native of Burlington, Ont., was named general manager of Ottawa’s yet unnamed expansion club Wednesday. The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the franchise, ended months of speculation by unveiling Desjardins as its first GM.
His contract is reportedly a four-year deal.
Desjardins takes on the task of building the new Ottawa team after spending the last four seasons as the assistant general manager for the Montreal Alouettes. Desjardins served as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats GM in 2007 before returning to Montreal.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity and something I really look forward to,” Desjardins said. “I have my thoughts on how I want to set everything up.
“To do it from the ground up, not only people-wise, but from the actual offices and locker-room and all that stuff. It’s a lot, but it’s like you’re building a model.”
Jeff Hunt, the president of OSEG Sports, said the process of selecting a general manager was intense and lengthy but the ownership group felt Desjardins’ experience made him the logical choice.
“Any expansion team in any sport would probably have four or five things that you really want to have and I think Marcel has all of those things,” Hunt said. “Chief among them, in my mind, is his experience.
“His experience with Montreal, which I think is the most admired franchise in the CFL right now as far as on-field success goes, will be an incredible addition.”
Desjardins’ departure will mark the second significant blow this off-season to the Alouettes football operations department. Earlier this month, head coach Marc Trestman left Montreal to become head coach of the NFL’s Chicago Bears.
“On behalf of the Montreal Alouettes, I first want to congratulate Marcel for obtaining the job in Ottawa and second, to thank him for a fantastic job in the way he has serviced the Montreal Alouettes,” Montreal GM Jim Popp said in a statement. “Marcel is a real hero in the organization who doesn’t get nearly enough thank yous that should go his way.”
Desjardins plans on making Ottawa “the most desirable destination” in the CFL for players and staff.
“The facility is going to be second to none, that’s not to say other cities don’t have that, but it’s very important,” Desjardins said. “Secondly it’s just how you treat people.
“You need to treat people as professionals, you need to treat the players and the staff as people. You don’t talk down to people. You create an environment where people want to be there and that goes a long way.”
The Ottawa franchise is slated to begin play in 2014 and Desjardins has plenty of work ahead of him.
Ottawa will select four NCAA underclassmen in this year’s CFL draft before participating in December in a three-round expansion draft of players made available from the existing eight clubs. Then in 2014, the franchise will take part in the league’s Canadian college draft
Ottawa has been without a CFL franchise since 2006 when the Renegades were suspended after four seasons by the league because of financial instability. The Renegades were born seven years after the storied Ottawa Rough Riders folded operations.
Ottawa football fans were forced to endure losing seasons and questionable ownership during the last two renditions of CFL football in the Canadian capital. Desjardins understands he faces a challenge re-igniting the fans’ passion for football.
“We have to have credibility at all levels,” he said. “With myself, with the head coach and with the players and obviously specifically with our performance on the field.
“The players are going to have to be able to deliver a competitive team, competitive game and entertain the fans at the same time.”
Patience will be part of Desjardins’ mantra, adding it will be crucial in developing a quality product fans can embrace. Desjardins said he doesn’t believe in shortcuts and has no intention of rushing the process.
The plan is to build through the draft and for Ottawa to find and develop its own players.
“As with any CFL team our strength on the field will derive from our quarterback as well as our Canadian content,” Desjardins said. “Decisions will be made in the best interest of the club while balancing short-term accomplishments in a clear vision for the longterm.”
Desjardins is also a firm believer in having local content, but not at the expense of the team’s success.
“You want local content on your football team, but at the end of the day the most important thing is to make sure you select the best player,” he said. “So if it’s a question of the best player versus the local player you’re going to choose the best player.”
While Desjardins is preaching patience he doesn’t believe fans will have to wait too long for a competitive on-field product.
“It’s going to be a process,” he said. “I would say hopefully that by the second year we’re more competitive and the third year we’re competing for a playoff spot if not a Grey Cup.
“That’s how you have to approach it.”
Working alongside Popp, Desjardins learned the importance of a GM surrounding himself with quality people. Desjardins’ first order of business will be hiring personnel, which he hopes to start doing in the next month.
But Ottawa football fans will have to wait for the appointment of a new head coach as it’s likely Desjardins will wait until the conclusion of the 2013 season to select one.
“I think it might be best to wait until November or December when there could be individuals looking for work or someone who would become available after the season,” Desjardins said. “I’ll have a lot more options at that time.”
The new franchise hasn’t yet selected a monicker but Hunt is hopeful the name, logo and uniform will be ready for unveiling in the next couple of months. The club won’t be called the Rough Riders as a condition of the city’s return to the CFL.