Baby steps, folks….but some progress is being made.
Try as they might to climb out of the mire that is this 2014 season, the Montreal Alouettes fell to the Edmonton Eskimos this past Friday by a score of 33-23. Once again, the Alouettes had to rely on Sean Whyte providing the lion’s share of points with his talented foot. But for the first time since July 11th, the Alouettes scored a touchdown!
Brandon Whitaker is known primarily for his foot speed and running prowess, but he’s also been known to catch a pass or two. And last Friday, he turned one of Troy Smith’s 20 completed passes into a touchdown. Unfortunately it was too little, too late as Eskimos QB Mike Reilly made the Alouettes defense look as inept as the offense. Edmonton finally snapped their years-long losing skid versus the Alouettes and the Western division continues its total domination over the CFL’s East.
Remember when everyone wanted Sean Whyte run out of town? Well, I daresay that without him, the Alouettes would be even more screwed. Without a special teams coach to bog him down, Whyte has been one of the few bright spots this season. His punting has improved tremendously and he rarely misses field goal attempts. There hasn’t been much to write home about this year but when it comes to kickers, Jim Popp certainly found the Whyte, er right stuff.
Once again Head Coach Tom Higgins is having a hard time winning a coach’s challenge. Some of the ones he lost were ill-advised calls to make, but there certainly was a case of a correct challenge when Kenny Stafford made a catch that was ruled incomplete for being out of bounds. TSN’s multiple camera angles showed Stafford’s feet just barely in bounds as he made the catch, but the command centre didn’t agree and stood by the referee’s initial call.
Which really makes me wonder now if the command centre possibly has it in for this former head of officiating? In his previous gig, Higgins oversaw many calls that may have been mostly correct, but nonetheless difficult for the fan watching the same camera angles as the command centre does to stomach. No matter what call is made, a portion of the fans are going to disagree with the outcome.
Other teams have borne the brunt of some bad calls as well this season, so perhaps it’s a simple matter of better education for the officiating crews and better use of the technology provided. At least I hope that’s all that is needed. Like last year’s missed PI call for Duron Carter in the playoffs, hindsight doesn’t take the bad taste out of one’s mouth. Live and learn, I suppose.
Last night I was conversing online with a fellow Alouettes supporter who’s not been a fan of Chad Johnson’s Twitter antics, feeling they have been a distraction to the team itself. I countered that singling out one member of the team for what he does in his private time is far from the reason that this team is struggling.
But when it comes to the overall fortunes that this team is now faced with, I do have to say one thing: You reap what you sow.
How many years have we fans begged the Alouettes to groom Anthony Calvillo’s replacement? Just about everyone, myself included, thought AC was washed up in 2007. Then along comes Marc Trestman who miraculously wrings an extra FIVE YEARS out of the guy! In that time-span, we had a legendary QB and a masterful coach who turns good QBs into great QBs. You couldn’t have asked for anything better in terms of being able to mold the next great Alouettes quarterback of the future.
Instead the team clung to Calvillo like a security blanket, refusing to give then backup QB Adrian McPherson or any other QB any meaningful chance to be a viable option should AC be injured or eventually retire. Adrian eventually grew weary of holding a clipboard and left. Many quarterbacks died on the vine waiting for AC to hang up his cleats. That was time and resources that would have been ideal to find & groom the next great Alouettes QB, if indeed it wasn’t going to be McPherson.
And now look where this team is, pinning it’s hopes on a QB who has some talent, but has had little cohesion in his coaching since his debut and no real way to properly lead a team that sorely needs a leader. Could you imagine if Troy Smith was brought in for the 2011 season and basically made to sit and learn from Calvillo, much like AC did from 1998-2000 under Tracy Ham? I highly doubt this team would be in the mess it is in now.
The same goes for coaching. We had a perfect successor in Scott Milanovich, but he grew impatient waiting for Trestman to bolt for the NFL. Imagine this former pivot leading this team with Noel Thorpe at his side instead of hoisting the Grey Cup above his head along with the Toronto Argonauts. Surely there had to be a way to retain him for one more season!
Instead this team not once, but twice piddled around until the month of February to hire head coaches, hiring ones who either had no clue (Hawkins) or ones clearly past their prime (Higgins). I respect that ownership didn’t want the head coach and general manager to be one and the same. But they say that once is a mistake and twice is a choice. Two times now, they have waited until the last possible minute when every viable coach was spoken for and only table scraps remained.
Even efforts to engage the fanbase almost seem too little, too late. I try so hard to accentuate the positive when this team reaches out to fans, but again this could and should have been accomplished when momentum was at its highest between 2008-2010. And now when I wander on to Facebook, all I see are people wistfully remembering the good old days.
Things like fan zones, tailgates and viewing parties should have been done a long time ago. Now these instances often feel more like someone celebrating their new Blackberry when everyone else is now using an Iphone. The diehards will always come out, but you also have to capture the imagination of the casual football fan. Stay ahead of the curve or get left behind.
This is a often a cyclical business in terms of fan loyalty and the Alouettes were very fortunate to keep their heads above water in that sense. Perhaps now that they have been force-fed some serious humble pie both on and off the field, maybe things will start to turn around for the better.
The Alouettes will now hit the road, facing some serious competition in both Saskatchewan and Winnipeg in the next two weeks. The RoughRiders have a bit of an identity complex this year, as you never seem to know which team will show up. They have been dominant and doormat all season long; this could be very well be one of those trap games that Montreal needs.
The team will be staying out west to face Winnipeg the following week; the Alouettes spoiled the opening day party for the Bombers last season by winning the first ever game at Investors Group Field and will be looking to add to that perfect record. This trip is also a great opportunity for some team bonding as well.
And now as this column goes viral, the Alouettes coaching carousel has finally stopped. Ryan Dinwiddie is now officially the offensive coordinator, Jeff Garcia is now the quarterbacks coach and Turk Schonert replaces Erik Campbell as receivers coach.
Now that these “consultants” have been properly assigned as position coaches, Troy Smith can finally get it together and keep the Alouettes competitive starting this Saturday.
I’ll be back on Friday with a preview of Saturday’s game vs. the RoughRiders. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for more thoughts and discussion during the week.
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.