The Montreal Alouettes aren’t short on drama heading into the CFL season.
Despite quarterbacking, coaching and ownership uncertainty, the Alouettes hope to snap a four-year playoff drought — the longest active streak in the CFL. The team hasn’t had a winning record since 2012 when the Alouettes went 11-7.
The Als rebranded with a new logo and uniform in the off-season, but more attention has been placed on the head coach position recently. The Alouettes parted ways with head coach Mike Sherman on Saturday and replaced him offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones. Reports surfaced that players were unhappy and considered revolting against Sherman.
“It’s almost like when I was a player, I had to wait a little while to get an opportunity,” Jones said Monday at his first practice. “So when this opportunity came up, although it was definitely a surprise, I felt ready for it.
“I feel good in this position,” he added. “And it doesn’t feel too foreign to me. Right now at least.”
On Monday, the Alouettes named returnee Antonio Pipkin their starting quarterback. He’s ahead of Vernon Adams Jr., Matt Shiltz and Hugo Richard on the depth chart.
“Antonio’s our starter,” Jones said when asked how much of a leash Pipkin will have. “It was a great competition. ... We had really four capable players, and it was a tough decision. But Antonio came out and showed he has what it takes to lead this team.”
The Alouettes haven’t had a dependable quarterback since the legendary Anthony Calvillo retired after the 2013 season.
“I just want to be the guy to put the team in the best position to win the game and be a great teammate at that,” Pipkin said. “The quarterback position isn’t all about one thing, you got to be a great teammate as well and that’s one of my goals.”
The CFL also is looking for a new owner to replace the departing Wetenhall family. The family took ownership of the team in 1997 before relinquishing the team to the league in May.
But for players like wide receiver Eugene Lewis, the situation hasn’t been much of a distraction.
“Whoever owns the team owns the team,” Lewis said. “The Wetenhalls, we appreciate everything they did for us, for this team. They won three Grey Cups here. They’ve done a lot for this organization. ... This is the reason why we’re here today.”
The Alouettes still have the league’s top prize in mind despite the noise.
“Every day, every meeting, every practice, every game, it’s going to be like the Grey Cup,” Pipkin said. “We’re trying to win, trying to go from worst to first. No such thing as trying to put this thing in a building phase, or a rebuild, we’re trying to win games and that’s all that matters.”
MONTREAL ALOUETTES AT A GLANCE
HEAD COACH: Khari Jones, first season
LAST YEAR: 5-13, missed playoffs
KEY PLAYERS: LB Henoc Muamba: The team’s leading tackler was a unanimous choice for his team’s top player, defensive player and outstanding Canadian last year.
RB William Stanback: The Alouettes’ most outstanding rookie from last year led his team in rushing yards and took over the starting running back position last season following the departure of Tyrell Sutton to B.C.
WR Eugene Lewis: After leading the Alouettes in receiving yards last year, the Pennsylvania native was brought back to Montreal on a one-year deal this off-season.
THE BIG QUESTION: Who will emerge as the true option at quarterback for the Alouettes?