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Zurkowsky: Alouettes have become the epitome of dysfunction

Zurkowsky: Alouettes have become the epitome of dysfunction
Zurkowsky: Alouettes have become the epitome of dysfunction

Alouettes head coach Jacques Chapdelaine walks on the sideline during the first half of a blowout loss against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver last week. DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS

We’re not sure Canadian professional football would exist today in Montreal had Robert Wetenhall not rescued the Alouettes franchise in 1997, after Michael Gelfand and Jim Speros basically left the club insolvent.

But today, 20 years later, ownership might be at the core of this organization’s problems. We hate to say this, since Wetenhall has undoubtedly lost millions on this team over the years and deserves a debt of gratitude for being so patient in the face of financial losses.

It’s only too bad he and his son Andrew, the team’s lead governor who has assumed a more active role in ownership, have failed to display the same patient resolve when it comes to firing their coaches, constantly having to dip into their pockets to pay out the remainder of contracts.

The Als, once the league’s most stable franchise — a team that made eight Grey Cup appearances over 11 years — have become the epitome of dysfunction. When the news broke Wednesday morning that head coach Jacques Chapdelaine had been fired, along with defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Noel Thorpe, the Als kept their three-year streak alive of firing coaches during the season.

This was simply a bad team without drama. Now, yet again, there’s plenty of drama.

It wasn’t even a full calendar year ago on Sept. 19, with the team’s record at 3-9 and entering a bye week in the schedule, that the organization announced Chapdelaine, its first francophone head coach, would replace Jim Popp. Not only did the Als win their first game under Chapdelaine, along with three of the next five, they attracted their only capacity crowd that season at Molson Stadium.

And fans weren’t coming to see the Als and Toronto Argonauts, two bad teams, play.

In 2015, eight games into the season and following a rare victory at British Columbia, the organization rewarded Tom Higgins by firing him a day after the win, its third in eight games. This is the same Higgins who, a year earlier, resurrected a team that started 1-7, Montreal winning eight of its final 10 and getting to within a game of the Grey Cup.

And in 2013, the lamentable Dan Hawkins was fired after five games with the Als at 2-3. Still, that makes four in-season head coaching changes over a five-year period. The one constant in all this was general manager Popp, who replaced every fired coach and seemed to have an agenda to return to the sideline. That is until Popp was fired as GM last November, eventually replaced by Kavis Reed. Scratch that theory.

We’re not naive enough to suggest Chapdelaine and Thorpe don’t share some culpability in all this. The Als have a 3-8 record heading into Sunday afternoon’s home game against the Ottawa Redblacks, and have lost four consecutive games. The offence is averaging 19 points per game, ahead of only the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, while scoring a pathetic 20 touchdowns through 11 games. In two of those games, the offence failed to get into the end zone.

Perhaps that’s why Andrew Wetenhall, prior to the team’s annual golf tournament on Tuesday, declared “nobody’s job is safe.”

The argument can be made Chapdelaine had too much on his plate and should have hired a qualified offensive coordinator last winter instead of deciding to call the plays himself.

And, while the defence has been the only unit holding this fragile team together in recent seasons, it has allowed more than 30 points in each of the last four games. Twice this season, teams have scored 41 against Montreal, including B.C. last Friday.

You should know mid-season coaching changes rarely work. This isn’t hockey, where 82 games are played and teams have the luxury of time to sort out their problems. You also have likely noticed the Tiger-Cats lost their first eight games, at which time head coach Kent Austin decided to remove himself, naming June Jones his successor. Jones then decided to bench starting quarterback Zach Collaros for Jeremiah Masoli. The Ticats have suddenly won two straight and, in the weak East Division, have as good a shot as anyone to make the playoffs.

The Als undoubtedly hope they, too, can catch lightning in a bottle now, although Darian Durant will remain the team’s starting quarterback and will probably be more involved in the game-planning under new offensive coordinator Anthony Calvillo. This marks the third time Calvillo has either held that role or shared it with another coach since his retirement. It never has worked because Calvillo, as gifted a quarterback as anyone who played, is still learning how to become a coach. Now, yet again, he’s being thrown to the wolves. Poor guy.

Mike O’Shea was named Winnipeg’s head coach in 2014, the Blue Bombers promptly going 7-11. A year later, mired by injuries, they slumped to 5-13. When the Bombers lost four of their first five in 2016, O’Shea could have been fired. But he wasn’t. Winnipeg went 11-7 and made the playoffs. And this season, the team’s 8-3.

Saskatchewan could have fired Chris Jones after a 5-13 season in 2016. The Roughriders didn’t, the team is 5-5 this season.

As an owner, when you think it can’t get any worse, let it and wait out the storm. And we see a storm of epic proportions in the Als’ future.

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