Inside the CFL: Two teams, two decisions
By Ted Michaels, CFL Columnist
Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - Normally, mid-summer in the CFL means a bit of a lull in hard news.
Teams have their bye weeks and fans go away on vacation.
But the calm of summertime was shattered by two announcements that sent shockwaves through the CFL. For one team, it's a case of identifying a problem and dealing with it; for the other, it appears to be a case of throwing gas on an already burning fire.
In Montreal, the Alouettes announced that Dan Hawkins was relieved of his duties as head coach and will be replaced by GM Jim Popp.
Despite the fact that the Als had defeated the Edmonton Eskimos 32-27 in their last game on July 25, owner Bob Wetenhall and Popp met last Wednesday night, and at that meeting, it was determined that Hawkins should be fired.
"I won't get into specifics, but there are some issues that we felt should be moving along quicker than they are," Popp said at a news conference. "We feel it's going very slow. "We're a veteran team. We're looking for results now. Hopefully, we can get ourselves back to the Alouette way."
In the end, not choosing to do things the Alouette way, cost Hawkins his job.
Hawkins, who has been working as a college football analyst for ESPN, never coached professionally. His head coaching experience was at Boise State, where his team won four Western Athletic Conference titles from 2002 to 2005, then was the head coach at Colorado, compiling a 19-39 record.
But, it was the lack of pro coaching experience that hastened Hawkins' demise. His stubbornness didn't help.
And that stubbornness started before training camp.
Hawkins wanted the Alouette offense to learn and adapt to the system he and offensive coordinator Mike Miller has planned, as opposed to working with the strengths that the Alouette offense had, led by QB Anthony Calvillo and ten other starters. That's the first thing Popp noticed.
"We wanted the coaches to learn the language, instead of 12 people (offense) having to learn something new. That didn't take place."
It got worse for Hawkins.
"We went through minicamp and we started seeing more and more new stuff put in and then we were seeing it more and more as the main emphasis and I was like: 'What are we doing here? Why are we doing this?' "Some of it, I felt strongly, wouldn't work ... But I had to wait for the proof. I could have been wrong."
And Hawkins didn't buy into the Alouette way of doing things.
"It's a philosophy that works," said Popp. "When you start swaying away too much from that, if people say, 'I don't care how it was done, I want to do it this way,' you want to give the guy some freedom to do things."
"But if it starts rubbing too many people the wrong way, and you're not getting results, it starts creating negativity, and then you worry if they're going to lose the locker room. I don't think Dan lost the locker room, but I think it was teetering. We're trying to get things back on the path of how we practice, how we do things in our locker room."
This isn't the first time Popp has stepped in to coach the Als. He took over in 2001 and in 2006. Overall, he has coaching record of 10-13 and one Grey Cup win, in 2006.
Doug Berry, former Winnipeg head coach, is now the offensive coordinator, while Miller has a reduced role, as the quarterback coach.
Hawkins was hired after Marc Trestman became the head coach of the Chicago Bears.
In five seasons, he led the Als to three Grey Cups, winning twice.
"You can definitely look back and call it (Hawkins hiring) a mistake," admitted Popp.
"When you follow a coach with the success like Marc Trestman had, you're automatically not going to be the favorite."
Too bad Hawkins didn't know that.
In Winnipeg, the Blue Bombers announced that for the remainder of the season, Justin Goltz would be their starting quarterback.
The team also noted that incumbent Buck Pierce would move to number three on the depth chart behind Max Hall, and Pierce would assist offensive coordinator Gary Crowton in developing the young quarterbacks.
"Nothing was ever spoken to me about bringing young guys along right now and helping in that aspect. That was never talked to me about," said Pierce. And as far as being demoted?
"I'm not happy about it at all," he said. "I don't feel, in my opinion, it's the right move. I feel that I can contribute and obviously they don't feel the same."
"It's only Week 6 of the season. I can't speak on their decisions at all. I just know they pay me to do a job and now I'm not doing that job.
"I have to stay positive in my mind and help the guys go out there and play, but I'm definitely not happy about it."
In his first ever CFL start, Goltz completed 19-35 passes for 194 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 37-24 loss to Calgary.
In Monday's game in BC, Goltz was average in the first half, completing 9-15 passes for 78 yards and one interception, but in the last thirty minutes, he was good on just 4-11 for 34 yards, as the Bombers fell 27-20 to the Lions.
When asked why the Blue Bombers made the move, head coach Tim Burke said, "we just feel we have a desire and a need to develop the quarterbacks for the future of the organization. And, we want to have continuity with our offence. We feel Justin will give us a better chance for week-in, week-out continuity."
That's coaches speak for "Pierce is injured too often for us to rely on him." To that point; as a Blue Bomber, Pierce has started in just 31 of 58 games. Now the Bombers have another decision to make.
Do they keep the 30 year-old Pierce as number three, and continue to pay him the money that a first-string pivot makes, or, will they, at some point, release him?
Keep in mind that as a nine-year veteran, Pierce will get his full salary after the ninth game (which takes place on September 1.)
So now, the Blue Bombers have a third string quarterback who's unhappy, a starter that has to win now to appease a fan base that's getting more disgruntled by the week, and a GM (Joe Mack) who vowed to clean-up the quarterback mess in the off-season, and hasn't.
Mack's current record as GM is a woeful 21-39 in his four year stint.
If this doesn't work, the search for a new GM starts the day after this season ends. And that means the search for a new head coach will start soon after.
Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML. Comments?Criticism? Applause?
08/06 10:41:32 ET