October 2015 – Deciphering Alouettes Poppaganda

Poppaganda One: Quarterback Succession

Player development lies MOSTLY in the hands of the General Manager. That makes perfect sense. In a world where coaches come and go, the one LONG TERM constant is your GM. A Head Coach or a coordinator will play the guys who’ll give them success and hopefully allow them to keep their jobs…they look to the short term naturally…for who knows what tomorrow may bring?

In attempting to entice Marc Trestman to the Alouettes therefore Jim Popp BROKE with tradition and offered Trestman COMPLETE control over who did or did not play, at least when it came to the Alouettes’ quarterback and offence. That ONE decision has hobbled this team TO THIS DAY and the results were absolutely predictable.

It’s no secret I wasn’t much of a Calvillo the Quarterback fan. It was NOT a random and uninformed opinion and I wrote VOLUMES in defence of my position. Can you say “stirring up a shitstorm of a hornet’s nest”? One of my MAIN complaints was the OBVIOUS fact that AC NEVER ceded the field to ANY other quarterback over the length of his career. But the truth is…on a NORMAL team the quarterback has almost NO say in the matter. Obviously as your quarterback builds prestige and respect throughout the league, he acquires BOTH the benefit of the doubt AND a certain “package” of concessions and power, for lack of a better term. But ULTIMATELY the decision should lie in the hands of the coaches who are trying to win the game, and the GM who needs to evaluate the talent he’s signed.

So while Calvillo seemed muleheaded about leaving the field under ANY circumstances PRIOR to Trestman’s arrival, that muleheadedness found a potent ally in Marc Trestman. Trestman’s NFL Head Coaching ambitions were NO secret. It was public knowledge that Trestman had an “escape’ clause that would (and did) leave the Alouettes with a SERIOUS hole to fill at a moment’s notice. All that was required was for Trestman, Calvillo and the Alouettes to be SO successful no NFL team could resist. And that’s exactly what happened.

So what’s the problem? Everybody wins, right?

Well…short term that’s obviously true. Trestman took a quarterback who from all indications was on his way out, identified his weaknesses and strengths and with his admittedly BRILLIANT offensive mind “shored up” the one and exploited the other. Trestman took a quarterback who’d LOST 5 out of his 6 Grey Cup appearances and brought TWO CUPS to this city. Huzzah!

What got lost in all the success was the fact that it was ALL at the expense of the franchise’s future. In order for Trestman to milk EVERY yard out of that AC cannon, no backup quarterback saw ANY duty, other than in short yardage or LATE garbage time. And when the Alouettes FINALLY acquired a quarterback talent that MIGHT have someday eclipsed even Anthony Calvillo (Adrian McPherson) the screws were tightened and McPherson came out with STRICT orders NEVER to throw the ball. Don’t want to show up the old man, I thought at the time.

And even THAT is perfectly understandable. Over the years listening to ex-players on radio it’s become obvious to me that CFL players live in terror of being injured or ineffective and having the next guy up steal his job. THAT’S WHY THE CHOICE IS NEVER THEIRS TO MAKE.

In his last effective season Calvillo injured his left shoulder. He couldn’t lift the arm above his chest for half the season. NOT ONLY did Calvillo play EVERY game despite an OBVIOUS drop in his accuracy and distance, someone somehow managed to strongarm Matt Dunigan into embarrassing himself. If I could find his SPURIOUS and frankly insane analysis that concluded that AC’s injury fixed the “mechanics problem” that had “plagued his career” I’d be a happy camper. Somehow Dunigan had been turned from a HUGE McPherson fan into his worst detractor, determined to convince ANYONE crazy enough to listen that McPherson should NEVER get on the field…even though he’d BARELY ever played and GOD ONLY KNOWS what he would have accomplished, given the opportunity. There’s no TELLING what some people will do to keep their job…I guess. Matt lost my respect on that day, to be sure.

Needless to say, despite being assured a gig as the heir apparent and being promised the time on the field he OBVIOUSLY needed to perfect his craft, that time NEVER came for Adrian McPherson. Like so many talented quarterbacks before him…AD wasted years of his life and left in frustration and humiliation.

Well Trestman got his NFL job. Calvillo broke all those records and retired a LEGEND. But that left the Alouettes, players and fans gasping for air and floundering at the bottom of the CFL canoe ever since. A quarterback carousel of hasbeens and neverwasses, generously sprinkled with rookie talent that was NEVER afforded the PROPER time and effort to develop. Matt Dunigan tells the story of his arrival in Edmonton and apprenticeship under Warren Moon. It’s an experience that grounded the young quarterback for the rest of his career. IT’S THE WAY THINGS ARE MEANT TO BE!!! It might be worth mentioning that Calvillo himself apprenticed under Tracy Ham in much the SAME WAY.

Tracy Ham

The ONLY way to STOP the Quarterback Carousel is to hire someone who’s judgment is SOUND and devoid of ulterior motives and ambitions. A man of character, who will evaluate talent CORRECTLY and stick to his decision through the vagueries of adversity and loss. THEN that person goes out and finds a few diamonds in the rough and “teaches them up”. Preferably diamonds of the “athletic” variety because, without the NORMAL “easing in” period, your rookie quarterback is going to have to RUN before he learns to WALK (well drop back in the pocket and read defences…but THAT doesn’t sound NEARLY as clever).

As history is constantly being re-written…Jeff Garcia is now NEVER given the credit he so OBVIOUSLY deserved for turning last year’s Alouettes’ season around. To hear Jim Popp tell it, Turk Schonert and NOT the departed Garcia was the mastermind of that semi-miraculous turnaround. The thing about prevarication is eventually the TRUTH will rise to the top of the muck. TIME WOUNDS ALL HEELS. Schonert’s performance as offensive coordinator proved CONCLUSIVELY that the abrasive Turk was little more than a disgraced NFL coach looking to bide his time until a REAL job presented himself. True to THIS theme, apparently Schonert waited until the very LAST second for an NFL spot to open up before accepting the Alouettes OC job. UNDERSTANDABLE you say? Perhaps…but not exactly demonstrative of ANY kind of commitment to the team OR the league. And frankly TYPICAL of Jim Popp coaching HIRES over the years. Anyone remember Dan Hawkins? Me neither!

Every armchair GM eventually says, “If it were up to me…” Well why should I be ANY different? IF IT WERE UP TO ME I WOULD HAVE OFFERED JEFF GARCIA THE SAME PACKAGE THEY OFFERED MARC TRESTMAN…short of that pesky OMNIPOTENCE clause.

I find it PHYSICALLY painful to imagine how young Cato might have flourished under a former scrambling dynamo like Jeff Garcia. And I can imagine Garcia PUSHING Popp to quickly replace injured receivers like Hoffman, Rogers, Gilyard, Deslauriers and retired receiver Brandon London. One can only imagine the pressure Alouettes defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe applied after losing both his middle linebackers, Bear Woods and the Kyler Elsworth. Like ANY successful coordinator in this league, Thorpe has a vision and KNOWS what pieces he needs to see it come to fruition. Garcia may be new to the coaching game but he’s a natural communicator, an experienced quarterbacks mentor with EXTENSIVE CFL experience.

When Jim Popp replaced an experienced coach with next to ZERO understanding of the CFL game (Schonert) with an experienced CFL guy with ZERO coaching experience (Calvillo), the best explanation he could muster was something like, “Well Calvillo’s gonna have to start calling plays eventually. He might as well start now.” Popp’s fractured explanations bear a STRIKING resemblance to his decisions as “Head Coach” on the field of battle. It’s obvious he either doesn’t care, his attention is elsewhere, or he has NO IDEA what he’s doing.

Herb Zurkowski has been covering the Alouettes for the Montreal Gazette for ages. My favourite curmudgeon, Herb pissed Jim Popp off so much he was once BARRED from access to the players altogether. ONLY in Montreal (or Toronto) is the CFL team of so little importance that a sports journalist can still do his job under THOSE conditions. People simply DON’T need to know…apparently. These days TSN radio is a 24hr sports station in several CFL cities. As a result TSN690 has had to SCRAMBLE for as many qualified CFL voices as possible. Give a listen to Mitch Gallo and Rick Moffat spending a 1/2 hour predicting the Alouettes start time and you’ll get JUST HOW FAR sports journalism can sink, “the game’ll start at 7:11…get it?” UGH.

So Herb’s on the pregame show in some western city (Winnipeg I think) and Davis Sanchez, former Alouettes DB is going to provide the colour commentary for the game. Herb leads with, “So Davis…as a professional football player what do you think of promoting a first year coach to the position of offensive coordinator?” After a few moments of chortles and chuckles, Moffat steps in to brown nose some damage control. I’m not sure I’ve ever HEARD two people come that close to a fistfight…as Moffat and Herb went at each other pretty good. It made for some interesting radio, to be sure.

Whatever keeps the fans interested, right?

More on THIS in: Poppulist Machinations – Past Present and “Future”


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