In the depths of this past winter, I received a missive from one Robert Wetenhall, long-suffering owner of the Montreal Alouettes.
The subject was crow.
One of us, Wetenhall suggested, was going to be dining on the finest crow come the end of the CFL season — because one of us had to be very wrong about the prospects of Wetenhall’s football club. I said they would go nowhere with Popp as coach, he insisted I was wrong.
Wetenhall proposed a friendly wager: If the Alouettes had a successful season, I would be the one eating crow. If they didn’t, the crow would be on Wetenhall’s plate. My trusty sidekick Zeke Herbowsky was assigned the task of finding a farmer to shoot the crow. Wetenhall was to provide the chef and the wager was more or less forgotten — until the Alouettes hit the skids and I began to think that I might not have to decide between crowburgers and crow drumsticks after all.
I wasn’t worried, because certain truths are self-evident: Billy Joel’s It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me is one of the dumbest songs ever written.
No one really looks good in yellow.
And Jim Popp can’t coach.
That fact, it’s safe to say, is clear to everyone in the football universe except two people: Popp and Wetenhall. Sooner or later, Wetenhall has to remove the rose-coloured glasses and admit that it’s time for the Als to cut ties with Popp.
Every coach and every GM has a shelf life. By any standard, Popp’s 21 years has been extraordinarily long. In that time, he did a great deal to make the Alouettes a dominant organization. But that dominance ended abruptly after Marc Trestman went to the Chicago Bears in 2013 and quarterback Anthony Calvillo retired in 2014.
But in his zeal to wear as many hats as possible, Popp has discovered that none fits his head. He is no longer an effective VP, GM, director of football operations or director of player personnel and he most certainly is not a coach and never was.
The proof is in the record: 22-34 in the regular season, 23-38 including the playoffs. Any other coach with a record that ugly would have long since found himself in the broadcast booth or trimming roses in the backyard. Not Popp.
The easy solution, the one the Alouettes have chosen again and again, is to have Popp return to the front office full-time while hiring yet another head coach. But no coach worth his salt is going to want to work for a GM with a penchant for firing coaches again and again and replacing the coach with himself. There is zero job security and it’s hard to motivate a team when the players are waiting for the inevitable mid-season firing followed by Popp’s return to the sidelines.
Nor does Popp’s recent record indicate that he is still capable of acting as an effective GM. When a concussion forced Calvillo to retire, the holder of virtually every passing record in the known universe was 41 years old — an age when it was clear that Calvillo would not be able to soldier on forever.
But Popp had failed utterly to replace the most important player on the field. The Alouettes had a quarterback in waiting in Adrian McPherson, who had spent five seasons as Calvillo’s backup, but MacPherson was released to pursue other offers in February 2013, with Calvillo’s career nearly at an end.
The predictable revolving door that followed was temporarily resolved late last season with the stopgap presence of Kevin Glenn, who is sometimes very good and more often barely adequate. Every spring, Popp brings in a bevy of quarterbacks and every season, most of them are sent packing (including the capable Canadian Brandon Bridge, a potential ratio-changer) with barely a look.
A less obvious, but almost equally important, blunder on Popp’s part came when veteran left tackle and CFL all-star Josh Bourke was allowed to go to the division rival Toronto Argonauts. With the quarterback position shaky, Popp had to make sure his quarterback had the best possible protection, especially on his blind side.
Instead, Popp replaced Bourke with young Jacob Ruby. Ruby has the size and the quick feet, but he doesn’t have the experience. Predictably, he has struggled — and so has the offence.
The saddest part of this annual spectacle is that the Alouettes are wasting the best defence the club has put on the field at least since the Marv Levy teams of the 1970s. Week after week, the defence dominates, at least for the first three quarters. But the offence can’t hang onto the ball, the defence wears down and the Als lose the fourth quarter and the game.
“This game makes you humble,? Popp said after the latest loss. Unfortunately, nothing makes Popp humble. No matter what the club tries to do, his runaway ego gets in the way.
It matters deeply because fan support is soft at best, the ascendant Montreal Impact is eating into the Alouettes’ audience despite struggling and the CFL’s deep affection for penalty flags and replay challenges is killing the game the Als are trying to sell.
The Alouettes need to win. To do that, they are going to have to hit the reset button and start over. Not now — in all likelihood, this season is a lost cause. But when it’s over, Wetenhall needs to thank Popp for his 21 years of service, send him on his way and start the search for a new GM.
Montreal Alouettes defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe signals to his players during practice at Stade Hebert in Montreal Wednesday July 08, 2015.
Montreal Alouettes defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe signals to his players during practice at Stade Hebert in Montreal Wednesday July 8, 2015. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
The coaching search, meanwhile, shouldn’t take more than five minutes. Everything defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe has accomplished here says he should be the next head coach. He has delivered excellence season after season under the most difficult circumstances — for that reason alone, Thorpe deserves a shot.
Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that Wetenhall would ever consider replacing Popp. Perhaps a heaping plate of crow stew, served piping hot, would be enough to convince firstname.lastname@example.org
Johnny beat Todd to this by a month.
Todd oughta know having a National QB is not a ratio changer.
[i]The scary thing in Todd's story, is that Wetenhall was actually confident the team would be good with Popp as HC!!!!!!
Was Wetenhall not watching, the previous gazillion times Popp was HC and he was a failure?!
Lost the plot, and then some... [/i]
I feel bad for our owner. I'm sure he's always meant well and loves his team but he broke the cardinal sin trying to run his team... Unless you own the Yankees or Cowboys type franchises where you could burn the downtown and get away with it. It isn't a good idea.
To save this team, they need well connected local ownership that can fix the structural problems of that business. Bob or his sons can't do that.
Now ownership consortiums can be problematic too (Expos) but hopefully if they love football, it should work out.
Jack is no better that Herb.....I stopped reading them a long time ago(but I did read this article)
Todd is like an accident on the highway. You know you shouldn`t stop to look but you do anyway.
Sad that Bob Wetenhall is made to look incompetent. Please sell before its too late.
Jack Todd is a mean-spirited idiot who never misses an opportunity to spew venom. Not worth reading. The worst part of this whole story is that it makes every moron journalist look good. See, everyone can pile on, even lazy hacks who don't actually follow the team!
Half of his criticisms of Popp are off-base. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of Popp and the Als, but Todd, like Herb, misses most of them.
Media has turned on this organization... Some of them during the Don's era, it kind of subsided and hide itself during the Trestman era. Now the Francophone media is hardly covering the Als unless its a non football related story and now you can add Zurkowsky, Todd, Morinaro to the list. Wetenhall HAS to sell, should sell but he's a stubborn old fellow...So who knows.
I think most of the criticism is justified.
He talks about Bridge as a "ratio-changing" quarterback, lol. Brings up Adrian F. McPherson of all people and makes no mention of the fact that Bourke hasn't exactly shone in Toronto. It's funny that on the one hand, I hear the argument about us being too old all the time, but when we cut ties with a veteran who is asking too much coin, that's unacceptable too. You can't have your cake and eat it!
I want Popp gone as much as anyone but let's be fair and accurate in our criticism. Todd charges Popp with having an ego that makes him keep wanting to be on the sidelines but the truth is that he's been asked by Wetenhall every time to come in and clean up.
The Jim Popp era should have ended when he moved to Mooresville. Wetenhall created a huge problem for the CFL when he went along with that. Look at the 3 broken franchises. Montreal, Saskatchewan and Toronto and they are the 3 teams with GM's who don't live where they work.
Yes you can find Bob's fingerprint on every fakup.
Yes you can find Bob's fingerprint on every fakup.The whole Tom Higgins fiasco was 100% on Wetenhall. He hired a bad candidate over his GM's head and it was disastrous. Higgins had no contacts left so he had to bring in Rick "The Bigot" Worman, who didn't even make it past training camp. Then there was a vacuum at OC which Higgins, once again, was unable to fill, so we promoted Dinwiddie internally and POPP brought in Matthews, Schonert, and Garcia to salvage the situation. Last season, same deal -- Popp has to step in and clean up the mess.
Damningly, the best coaching hire we've had in the past four years has been the guy hired by ... wait for it ... Mark Trestman (Noel Thorpe!).
Jim Popp's reaction to the article:
Well, I don't read it first of all. People bring it to me, and you gotta take it for who actually writes it. I've been here 21 years. Anytime that I've been asked... I'm only the Head Coach because I've been asked by an owner who trusts me. And most of the time when I've had to step in, I've been able to get us to the playoffs. Whether I've been asked to stay on an extended year because of whatever circumstances (this year for example), the whole point was not to change so much again as to help groom coaches on our staff especially in Anthony Calvillo: give him a chance to develop as a coordinator. And at the end of the season, the whole plan is to either hire one of these coaches. Whether we want to do it tomorrow (hire one of them) or go find another coach for our organization because I don't plan on doing this. I'm not here to be the Head Coach.
I take pride being a General Manager. If we're a great defense, who got all those players? If we got great players in Duron Carter and the other people, who got 'em? I'm the same guy that also took us to 15 Divisional Championships, 8 Grey Cups, and 3 wins. I can't control what people write.
What I can tell you is the same people who write that, everytime I ever been a Head Coach over a 15 year period, write the exact same story. You can go back and look it up and see. They write the exact same stuff everytime. They're on a kick. The same people there always been after me. I don't care. They were always after Anthony. He was never a good quarterback. No matter how much success we had there, there was always a problem. I guess they have a personal issue. I have no idea. I can't control that. They can get people riled up and talk about it or whatever small percentage of readers they have.
I do my thing. I've had personally a lot of success but organizationally, we've had a lot of success doing what we're doing. I've hired a lot of great people. There's a lot of people playing in this league and/or coaching or become managers or whatever that have come through this thing. And that's all I can do. I can't control what people think. I do know we're all upset we're not winning more games, and that happens. You're gonna go through stages. Wally's had that: up and down in places he's been, and it just takes place.
There's a lot of trust in what we've done, and I plan to continue doing what I'm doing. I have a contract, and hopefully we can be right there. What I do know (maybe not record- wise), we've lost 2 very close games the last 2 weeks. If we would've won those 2 games Farhan, we'd be in 1st place in the East. The reality we didn't, and we're in last place in the East. I understand why people get upset. We won 1 out of 6 home games up to this point, and people don't like that and I'm right now the Head Coach too. Criticism comes with that and when you have this job, criticism.
People that write articles like that, I don't know if they ever been even to a game and/or... I know they've never been to a practice. I don't even know what they know other than they listen to another reporter or they just hear the jargon, and they want to jump into it. I can't control stuff like that.[url=http://www.tsn.ca/radio/vancouver-1040-i-1410/3down-radio-previewing-lions-alouettes-1.562558]http://www.tsn.ca/radio/vancouver-1040- ... s-1.562558[/url]
Jim Popp said although he has not received any trade inquires regarding Kevin Glenn, he would be open to anything that all the parties involved in agree on.
Did Wally ever have a five year slide ? Can't recall one.
Did Wally ever have the most penalized team in the league? Can't recall that.
What I do know is that Wally has been a QB factory for this league. Popp hasn't found ONE young QB in 21 years in the league.
Is Jim comparing himself as a head coach to Wally Buono ?
Yes he did a great job and he was paid for that great job.
There isn't one reporter in Montreal who supports Popp right now. Not ONE ! The closest is Dussault and its "I'm not touching this"... Tony Marinaro isn't a hater.
Jim knows he's in the business of winning football games and the last five years there hasn't been any winning. Just a straight graph pointing down. He really should not be speaking out right now.
Popp has an ego, is justifiably proud of what he has done for the team over the years, so is going to defend himself. And he is certainly right about this:
"People that write articles like that, I don't know if they ever been even to a game and/or... I know they've never been to a practice. I don't even know what they know other than they listen to another reporter or they just hear the jargon, and they want to jump into it. I can't control stuff like that. "
But this is a "what have you done for me lately" business and Popp certainly bears responsibility for his share of the current mess.
Bottom line - he should have just said "I have no comment on that story."
Good for Jim. I think he should be gone but dammit let's not do him like this. The hit job being performed by members of the Montreal media is the same hit job they've been doing for the past 15 years. He's absolutely right. They don't know what they're talking about, and they spew the same venom at the first opportunity. Jim has done a lot of great things for this organization over a long time span. He's been forced into being head coach by Wetenhall time and again. Those players on defense, he recruited. Duron Carter, Popp brought him in. He has failed significantly in other areas, and he should not be coaching, but it's the owner who keeps putting him on the field to be head coach.
He has failed significantly in other areas, and he should not be coaching, but it's the owner who keeps putting him on the field to be head coach.
OK, well, if JP knows (as well as most CFL fans), that he sucks as a coach, why not say to RW, "Gee Mr.W thank you for the opportunity, but I really suck as a coach, let's give it to Noel and I will do my job and try to recruit some talent for this pathetic team!"
Look, nobody is going to say, I'm terrible as a coach. Most of the time, he's come in midseason to clean up a mess and has usually done fairly well in that role. If Wetenhall decided to give him the HC spot for 2016, THAT IS ON WETENHALL. I'm sure Popp wasn't expecting the season to go how it's gone. He's not stupid. This is affecting his reputation and career as much as anyone. He figured he'd be a placeholder/interim coach until someone was ready to take over. It hasn't worked out that way but it is unfair to expect Popp to recuse himself from the HC role. If your boss puts you in a position to fail, your boss has to take responsibility.
Also, you wanted Wetenhall to turn the team over to Thorpe, this offseason? Thorpe, the guy who tried to get out of his contract because his precious little snowflake feelings were hurt that nobody told him Kavis was getting promoted?
The thing is, there is talent on this team. Ruby hasn't panned out, but it was a good gamble. Picard retired in training camp, nobody saw that coming. Green done for the season in game two, also unexpected. Despite all that, there is talent on the offensive side of the ball. Carter and Lewis have been stellar. Cunningham is coming into his own. Sutton needs to get the damn ball. We've got guys like Martese Jackson on the PR. It's not like Popp hasn't tried to recruit.
Yup, nothing breeds confidence more with players and coaches than when your GM appoints himself as HC in order to allow the rookie OC to develop as a true OC. And then states that to the world through the media. I'm not sure how Calvillo can even look anyone look in the eye after that. Brutal. Defies all professional description. Or logic. I just think Popp is as dense as a post and everything ends at his self promotion. Ted Baxter as someone earlier mentioned.