Grab a coffee or something, this is a long one.
Jeff Hunt has already started his list of dream candidates to lead the city’s pending CFL team back into the league.
The owner of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s and partner in the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group that hopes to return a Canadian Football League franchise to Lansdowne Park in 2014 has also heard from a number of people who don’t have a prayer of landing the general manager’s gig with the new team.
Just the other day in his office, Hunt was laughing about the high school football coach from “god knows where? in the Unites States who was litterally begging for the job on Facebook.
That was almost as scary as the guy who, by Hunt’s account, stalked him at a dinner party wanting to be the team’s trainer.
“I have had some pretty bold approaches,? Hunt said in an interview this week. “I get the ‘I’m your guy’ type of thing and while these people might be well-intentioned, they have no sense of even what we’re looking for.
“Fortunately, Facebook is not a tool of business.?
There is no shortage of candidates. Some are legitimate. Others border on the absurd, though keeping in mind some of the past hires by Ottawa CFL franchise owners, nothing is too far out there. The names Forrest Gregg and John Jenkins spring immediately to mind. At the end of the day, however, Hunt knows what he’s looking for.
“I have probably spent 20 to 30 hours meeting one-on-one with accomplished football people. And what I have found is the differences between hockey and football people are not significant,? he said.
“You start with the attributes and the first has to be an eye for talent. It sounds simple but it’s not that simple. I’ve said all along I want to hire the Brian Kilrea of football. Killer had weaknesses as an administator but you can’t teach an eye for talent. Everybody can ID the top guys. It’s finding the others who can make a difference.?
The OSE group is working ahead on the premise Lansdowne can be rebuilt in time for 2014, though any more lengthy delays due to court proceedings will at some point give way to a drop-dead date where 2014 might become 2015.
Hunt said as long as 2014 remains a target, he would hope to have his general manager/director of football operations post filled between the day of the 100th Grey Cup Nov. 25 in Toronto and the end of January, 2013.
That would give the person 1 1/2 years to prep for training camp in June, 2014, perhaps at Carleton University.
In other words, the hunt will really pick up steam in the fall.
“I have had two or three people come to me, but generally these people don’t approach with a resume in hand, so I’m not sitting on any resumes,? said Hunt.
“I have got a list and on my list is who is the best GM in the CFL,? he explained. “And right now, that guy is probably working within the league, so when the time comes and the best guy might not be available, it will fall the second guy, then the third, until we get the best available.
“And there’s a period in time when the talent for that position is most abundent, and that would seem to be right at the end of the current season. That’s when people generally lose their jobs or look to move.?
Make no mistake. That hire is going to be critical to how the franchise is perceived both locally and throughout the pro football community.
“It’s the only hire our group will have to make,? said Hunt. “That GM will build the team around him from the coaching staff on down.?
Only time will allow the actual hire to be properly assessed but if the franchise doesn’t make a wise choice, the time line for producing a winner could be set back several seasons.
With that in mind, the club will have to look far and wide and not just listen to who has their ear the most at the league level.
The Old Boy’s Network of hiring and re-hiring is not going to do.
“We can’t dismiss any candidates,? said Hunt. “But the less gut feel I have about the guy the better.
“His record should speak for itself.?
Hunt and fellow partner John Ruddy will identify the best candidate before going to the other partners Roger Greenberg and William Shenkman with the name.
“The position will be such a focal point, we would want everyone’s buy-in,? said Hunt. “John and I will do the legwork, then put it to the others.?
THE SERIOUS CANDIDATES
Deserves a second chance in his 10th season as assistant general manager in Montreal, wrapped around one unsuccessful season (2007) as GM in Hamilton. Spent five years at the league’s head office, having his hand in just about every aspect of day-to-day operations of CFL franchises. He knows the league inside out. Desjardins hails from Burlington, Ont., studied at Laurentian University and is fluently bilingual. He even worked for a time for the OHL Sudbury Wolves. Desjardins is stuck in Montreal behind Jim Popp, so the move west to Ottawa would seem a perfect fit. He merits strong consideration.
What other startup franchise could find a candidate with more than a quarter-century of experience in professional football on both sides of the border, long entrenched in the community, with contacts throughout the football world and the skills and experience to build from the ground up? The answer is none. Rambo, who married in Blackburn Hamlet and never left, led the Rough Riders to success in 1992 as GM, only to be forced out by the Glieberman regime. He worked eight years scouting with the NFL Denver Broncos, still has his own college scouting service and has had tenures with the Tiger-Cats more recently, after an eight-season run in Saskatchewan in the ’80s.
This might be one of those stories where talent on the field carries right over into the front office. Hervey won two Grey Cups with Edmonton and was a CFL all-star with speed, toughness and the ability to make a catch in traffic. Hervey also found the seam to make his transition into football management. Now in his fourth year as the Eskimos’ head scout, Hervey takes a lead role in co-ordinating Canadian draft preparation and research. The former star at USC also has identified players for the team at successful open tryout camps in northern and southern California. It might be too much to expect Hervey to be ready, considering his playing career only ended in 2007. That won’t be the case for long.
WORTH A LOOK
The former Surrey Ram is virtually a lifer with the B.C. Lions and is well-respected across the league. He also has learned all areas of the business, getting his start in the ticket office in 1985 and climbing the ladder to become Wally Buono’s right-hand man. This year will be his 18th with the Lions, as he handles many of the day-to-day activities of the football operations department, including player contracts and assisting the coaching staff with game and scouting preparation. He also plays a key role in the evaluation of new talent for the Canadian draft and annually attends off-season free agent camps in Texas, Georgia, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, D.C.
If the last name sounds familiar in Ottawa, it should. His father Marv was a standout with the Carleton Ravens before going on to a fine 14-year CFL career. One of Drew Allemang’s first memories is as a six-year-old, being held by his ankles over a cold tub in the Ivor Wynne Stadium locker-room, petrified that defensive end Grover Covington is about to drop him into the freezing water far below. Allemang, in his early 30s, is seen as a rising star who has learned the business from the bottom up. Drew started working for the club as an equipment assistant at age 24 and has steadily worked his way up the ranks to become co-ordinator of Canadian player development.
THE LONG SHOT
When last we heard the MacCagnan name, he was cutting his teeth with the Rough Riders in the early 1990s as director of scouting and player personnel. Today, he is assistant director of college scouting with the Houston Texans, co-ordinating the teams’ college scouting efforts after joining the NFL organization as a pro scout in 2000. MacCagnan spent the previous six years as a scout for the Washington Redskins. He served as a college scout (1994) for the Redskins before becoming a pro scout in 1995 and also worked for Saskatchewan. Would the New Jersey native give up his NFL position for a chance to start a CFL franchise from scratch? He deserves consideration.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Out of coaching since 2007, Higgins is the director of officiating for the CFL and would jump at a chance to lead a new organization. There’s no doubting his depth of knowledge of the league. He played with the Stampeders and Saskatchewan, also spending one season as a Buffalo Bill. He coached at the University of Calgary and joined the Stampeders staff in 1985 before becoming a head coach in 2001 with Edmonton. He also won a Grey Cup in 2003, then went back to Calgary as head coach in 2005. Higgins might have strong support from some in league executive positions and almost certainly will throw his Stetson into the ring.
One of those up and comers, Murphy is the assistant to general manager and head coach of the Calgary Stampeders, John Hufnagel. Previously, he was with Winnipeg in 2009 as the club’s director of player personnel and, before that, spent time as a U.S.-based scout for the Alouettes following an internship with the Oakland Raiders. He is involved in aspects of CFL player evaluations and trades, the Salary Management System and also is responsible for the team’s contract negotiations, scouting NFL training camps, CIS football, and NCAA bowl games. Will be a GM somewhere in the not-too-distant future.
Homegrown in Ottawa’s south end, the former head coach in Hamilton might see himself capable as both head coach and GM here. Bellefeuille made his mark as head coach of the Ottawa Gee-Gees, leading them to a Vanier Cup victory in 2000. Had stints as an assistant coach in Saskatchewan, Montreal and Hamilton before being named Ticats head coach by mid-season 2008. Took Hamilton to three consecutive playoff spots before he was fired after the 2011 season, in which the team lost in the East final. Shortcoming might be lack of front office experience.
There isn’t a CFL team in the East McCarthy hasn’t worked for, including the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1994. Was the youngest GM to lead a Grey Cup winner with the Argos in 1991. He also has scouted for the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers and would relish a return to Ottawa, this time, running the football side of the operation. His CFL career dates to 1985 as Hamilton’s director of player personnel. He was with Hamilton until 2007, before taking a scouting job with the Alouettes. McCarthy was making inquiries about the Ottawa franchise as far back as the fall of 2011.
THE WILD CARD
Headed into his 17th season as GM of the Alouettes, there was a wild rumour circulating last season that the Ottawa job could be Popp’s if he ever wanted it. The rumour had some legs and still might. The Als have three Grey Cup wins under Popp since 2000 and his ability to build expansion teams and turn established franchises into winning organizations is what makes Popp appealing. Maybe the challenge in Ottawa would be appealing for Popp, too. Popp has 20 years of CFL experience. While his six kids all were born in Montreal, he still calls Mooresville, North Carolina, home.