The Hawk has flown the coop. Or rather, was pushed out of the Nest.
In case you’ve been living under a rock these past 24 hours, you’ve heard the news of the release of Dan Hawkins as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes. He will be replaced by General Manager Jim Popp until further notice, most likely until season’s end.
The offense will now be run by Doug Berry, who was hired as an adviser to Hawkins. OC Mike Miller has been offered a reduced role within the team and the administration is hoping he will accept it.
When I saw the news on Twitter yesterday morning I was a little surprised, as the Alouettes had won their previous tilt and it seemed like the offense was finally starting to take hold. But it’s clear now that both Popp and Alouettes owner Robert Wetenhall had seen enough of Hawkins’ running of the team and decided it was time for a immediate change.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but it’s easy to see why everyone thought that hiring Hawkins was a big mistake; He had zero head coaching experience at the pro level, he seemed to dismiss the advice of others when it came to the Canadian game and he decided to tinker with a system that didn’t need any tinkering with.
Based on a lot of fans that I spoke with regarding this move, there is a general sense of relief with Hawkins’ dismissal. But one thing that was evident was just how massive a shadow former head coach Marc Trestman had cast and the impression he left on Alouettes and CFL fans alike.
It really seemed like no matter who was hired as coach of the Alouettes, they were to be immediately held up to the same benchmark that Trestman had set. And that’s a setup for failure at any rate, no matter who you hire. You simply can’t expect someone to just step in and be the next Marc Trestman. It doesn’t work that way.
As a head coach, you ultimately want to stand out on your own. I suspect Hawkins was getting crushed under that invisible weight and in order to establish himself from the former regime, he felt he had to implement his own indelible mark on the team, no matter how ill-advised a move it seemed to be.
But it begs the question; when you have so much talent in place, including a Hall of Fame quarterback who has probably forgotten more about Canadian football than most coaches will ever learn, why would you as a head coach even attempt to fix something that is clearly not broken?
This was the ideal situation to step in into if you were looking to make a coaching name for yourself. CJAD broadcaster Rick Moffat even compared it to being given the keys to a brand new Ferrari with a full tank of gas in it.
I’m not saying that coaching this Alouettes team was a gimme, but the foundation had been laid in five years to be a successful team on and off the field, with a myriad of talent that any CFL head coach would salivate for.
In my opinion (and I am not alone in this thought), it really came across that both Hawkins and Miller had the typical arrogant thought process that most Americans have regarding the CFL; that it’s a bush-league, amateur brand of football. That anyone with a teaspoon of football experience can step in and be successful at it.
And that probably should have been the first warning sign. When he was first asked about adapting to the nuances of the Canadian game, his response was, “Football is football”. And in a sense, he wasn’t wrong; the basic make-up of the game is similar between American and Canadian football.
But there are still some intricacies to this particular brand of football that Popp knew Hawkins would need to learn, hence why he hired people who had experience in the CFL in order to assist in the learning process. At what point did Hawkins decide that he didn’t need to listen to them?
Was it before or after the pitiful effort being given on offense during the Alouettes home opener? The ill-conceived 3rd down gamble in Calgary? The want to challenge a call that was going to FAVOUR the Alouettes? There’s been a number of questionable moments that one can easily chalk up to as growing pains, but now give me pause for consideration.
Perhaps the most glaring statement he made was several weeks ago on his weekly radio segment on CJAD800, which is the radio broadcaster of the Alouettes. In regards to the fans’ concerns about the sputtering offense and how to turn it around, he offered up this salvo:
“Before we learn the tricks of the trade, we have to learn the trade.”
I was flummoxed to hear those words leave his lips. Learn the trade? LEARN THE TRADE?! This man is coaching professional athletes who have “learned the trade”. Again, Anthony Calvillo IS the trade that he needed to learn. Did Hawkins think he was back in college football, teaching a bunch of teenaged boys how to play football?
Did he really, truly think this was a joke of a league that any idiot could succeed in? I’ll be the first to say that the CFL is NOT the NFL, but whether you like it or not this IS a professional football league with grown men who depend on this game to make a living of some sort. And to come out, as a leader of professional men, with a statement like that really didn’t sit right with me.
I was willing to give the Hawkins coaching staff the benefit of the doubt due to the Trestman shadow being a tough one to come out from and also because if Mr. Wetenhall and Jim Popp were willing to endorse this staff, then I should be willing to as well. But it’s looking more and more like those two gentlemen were sold a bill of goods by a man who’d been sitting in a TV studio for the past two years.
The one saving grace is that this coaching change was done early enough into the season. There is still plenty of time left to correct what has been done. Popp went so far as to say that you could call this hiring a mistake on his part if you wanted to. I won’t go quite that far as this could have gone either way. If the Alouettes were 5-0 today, Popp would be hailed yet again as a genius for making this hire.
But owning up to this “mistake” and the willingness to come in and correct it swiftly is proof positive that the desire to win is still there. That failure truly is not an option with this Montreal Alouettes franchise.
Jim Popp as a head coach long term doesn’t work for me and for him as well. This is a short-term move and rightly so. I do feel confident that Popp has learned what to do and what not to do from his two previous stints as this team’s head coach. And I feel even more confident now that he will find the next great Alouettes coach, much like he often finds the next great Alouettes superstar.
So now the question has to be asked, what of Offensive Coordinator Mike Miller? He has bore the brunt of a lot of criticism from fans and media alike for the offensive woes this season. Remarkably, he has owned up for a lot of it. Is it possible that he too was in over his head in understanding the Canadian game? Did he underestimate it and is willing to learn it in order to stay with this team?
Only he can answer that. Miller does have actual pro experience and could probably return to the NFL or NCAA as a coordinator if he decides it’s not worth it for him to stick around in a “reduced role”. During yesterday’s press conference, Jim Popp and Anthony Calvillo did speak very highly of Miller’s football acumen and both expressed hope that he does stay with the team.
If he was willing to learn the little things that differ between the CFL and NFL, it could certainly open some doors for him as a coach. No doubt he will want to be a head coach at some point in his life. Who better to learn from than experienced people like a Doug Berry or an Anthony Calvillo? It did take Marc Trestman some time to learn the CFL game and it made him a better overall teacher of football as a result.
Surely Miller can see the value in following the career path of a man who is now an NFL head coach and he did it by cutting his teeth on the game up north. The decision is ultimately Miller’s and I wouldn’t fault him for heading back to the familiarity of four-down football. But if he’s willing to give this a go, he just may surprise us all.
For the Alouettes, today is the first day of the rest of their lives. There’s a game versus Toronto that needs to be prepared for. And even if the Argos are missing their prized QB Ricky Ray and running back Chad Kackert while playing with a bunch of first time CFLers, they seem to be doing just fine.
So when the troops return this afternoon from their bye week break to the practice field in St.Leonard, there will be a new sheriff to answer to. And he’s not screwing around. As our now departed ex-coach once exclaimed, “It ain’t intramurals, brother!”
But rather, like the old Nina Simone song goes, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day”. And today, Alouettes Nation is….feeling….GOOD.
GO ALS GO!!!
About the Author
Written by Clifford Pine
Montreal born & bred, lover of sports. Passionate about the Montreal Alouettes. Also a great cook & not too bad a dancer.