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Montreal Alouettes' Nik Lewis sits in the team locker room as players clean out their lockers following the last game of the season on Nov. 6, 2016. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
Montreal Alouettes' Nik Lewis sits in the team locker room as players clean out their lockers following the last game of the season on Nov. 6, 2016. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Alouettes players want Jacques Chapdelaine to stay as head coach Add to ...

The consensus in the Alouettes’ locker room was that interim head coach Jacques Chapdelaine has what it takes to lead Montreal to victory next year.

After a topsy-turvy season in which the 7-11 Alouettes missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year – just barely – most players at the team’s exit day on Sunday agreed that Chapdelaine was one of the lone bright spots.

The 55-year-old Chapdelaine, hired in the off-season as the team’s receivers coach, took over as interim head coach from Jim Popp in September when the Als had a 3-9 record. With Chapdelaine at the helm, Montreal went 4-2, including ending the year on a three-game winning streak and just one win away from the playoffs.

“We found our identity,” rookie quarterback Vernon Adams said. “We’ve come together tighter as a group, as a family, not just professionals. We’ve had each other’s backs; we weren’t arguing on the sidelines. We all see Jacques’s vision for what he wants for this team in the future. We all bought into it.

“He wanted us to be men and not bring negativity to the program. He’s just a good dude with a good heart and a great coach.”

For Bear Woods, Montreal’s leader in defensive tackles, Chapdelaine earned his and his teammates’ respect when he decided to release receivers Duron Carter and Kenny Stafford – with general manager Popp’s approval, of course. Carter and Stafford were apparently distractions in the locker-room and on the field. Their negativity, said Woods, was hurting the franchise.

“It’s a respect thing,” said Woods, who was nominated this week for most outstanding player in the CFL. “What you saw was attitudes changing. He got guys who wanted to be here, who were going to have a good attitude and give effort. You start with that, you’re going to have a chance for success.

If it were up to the players, it’s likely Chapdelaine would return as head coach next year, without the “interim” title. But that decision will come down to Bob Wetenhall, the team’s owner, and his son Andrew Wetenhall.

“We haven’t had discussions about my future yet,” said Chapdelaine, who plans to spend the off-season in British Columbia with his family. “And I don’t even know if I’m quite ready for that discussion just yet. I’d like a small break since the season just ended.

“I know this situation is not entirely in my control.”

Chapdelaine’s status is not the only question mark heading into the off-season. It’s also unclear who will be the team’s starting quarterback next year. Kevin Glenn, who was Montreal’s opening-day starter, was traded to Winnipeg in September. QBs Rakeem Cato and Adams both saw action down the stretch this year, with Adams getting the start in the last three games of the season.

Overall, Cato completed 122-of-181 passes for 1,403 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Adams went 42 for 74 for 575 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.

Chapdelaine said it’s difficult comparing Cato and Adams, though, because each quarterback played under different circumstances. Where Cato was under much more pressure, according to the interim head coach, Adams started games where the Alouettes were already eliminated from playoff contention.

“It’s like comparing apples and bananas,” Chapdelaine said. “Right now, knowing what we know, Vernon may have a leg up on Rakeem, but it will be important to see where the off-season takes us. Vernon has definitely done a tremendous job of seizing the opportunity.”

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