MONTREAL (CP) - The Don is gone, his departure as Montreal Alouettes coach announced at a news conference that left more questions than answers.
Don Matthews, who holds the CFL record for coaching wins, stepped down Wednesday due to a unspecified health problem.
The team did not make public what Matthews' health problem was and the 67-year-old coach did not attend the announcement at a news conference at Olympic Stadium.
Team president Larry Smith said Matthews' condition was not life-threatening, but asked that it be kept confidential.
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''He had some health issues that were affecting his ability to perform,'' Smith said.
General manager Jim Popp will take over as head coach for at least the rest of the season. The Alouettes (8-6) are tied for first place in the East Division with the Toronto Argonauts despite erratic play for most of the season.
Smith said Matthews met with him, Popp and owner Robert Wetenhall a month ago to inform them of his problem. He offered to step down then, but was asked to stay on ''not just because of what he did for organization but for what he represents to the players.
''I can assure you from Mr. Wetenhall, to myself to Jim, that Mr. Matthews was not fired,'' Smith said.
His decision to leave came after a meeting with team doctors this week, Smith added.
Popp said Matthews did not enter a clinic or hospital and remained in Montreal.
''I'm sure one day Don will speak in public when he's prepared,'' said Popp. ''He didn't want a press conference.
''It's his life. It's his decision.''
Matthews won 58 games and lost only 28 in his four-plus seasons in Montreal.
The native of Amesbury, Mass. native, who recently got his Canadian citizenship, has a record 231 career regular-season wins as a CFL head coach, plus 13 playoff wins and five Grey Cup titles.
Matthews was let go as head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos prior to the 2001 season for unspecified health reasons but resurfaced the following year with the Alouettes.
This time, it is likely the end of his 27-year CFL career. Matthews has said Montreal would be his last coaching job.
Matthews met briefly with his players Wednesday morning, but did not stay for practice. Defensive tackle Ed Philion the Alouettes were also in the dark over what caused Matthews to step down.
''He's not going to burden us with his symptoms and stuff,'' said Philion. ''When he's comfortable, he'll let us know. but right now, he can't do it any more.
''He said he knew five weeks ago he wasn't feeling well and then finally, at one point, he made the decision he couldn't do it any more, or he was told he couldn't do it.''
Philion said he noticed nothing different about Matthews this season, but the Alouettes have struggled.
They ended a six-game losing streak - the longest of Matthews' career - with a victory Friday night in Winnipeg after opening the season with seven straight wins.
Even in some of their wins, the team was uncharacteristically sloppy on both sides of the ball. Veterans were at a loss to explain the numerous mental errors players made on the field.
There were reports two weeks ago in the midst of the losing streak that this would be Matthews' final season with the Alouettes. But the team denied it had spoken to Calgary Stampeders GM Jim Barker about taking over, talk that Barker also vehemently denied.
The report led to a bitter exchange with the Montreal Gazette reporter who wrote the story after practice the next day that was repeatedly broadcast across Canada.<
Although the team admitted Wednesday it was aware that Matthews may not finish the season a month ago, Smith insisted the Barker report was ''far-fetched.''
Matthews signed a contract extension during training camp through the 2008 season, but Smith said he would only be paid to the end of this year.
And he said that even if Matthews were to recover and feel ready to coach again, that ''the relationship we had with Mr. Matthews is over.''
It marks the second time Popp has stepped in as head coach. He took the helm from the fired Rod Rust in 2001 after the team won nine of 11 games and then lost six in a row. The Alouettes lost their last regular-season game and a playoff contest under Popp.
Smith said Popp should not be called an ''interim' head coach because the management group will decide at the end of the season whether he will continue doing both jobs.
Popp said he won't change much in the Alouettes system and will rely heavily on the assistant coaches when drawing up game plans and making roster decisions.
''This is a great opportunity for our assistant coaches . . . they've got to step up to the plate and it's on their shoulders to make the right decisions,'' he said.
Matthews, a former U.S. marine and linebacker at the University of Idaho, entered the CFL as an assistant coach in Edmonton in 1977 and was promoted to defensive co-ordinator the following season.
He was part of the Eskimos dynasty that won five straight Grey Cups from 1978 to 1982.
He jumped to the B.C. Lions in 1983, moved on to Toronto in 1990 and took over in mid-season as head coach in Saskatchewan in 1991, the only year of his coaching career that his team did not make the playoffs.
In 1995, he won a Grey Cup with the Baltimore Stallions - the team that would move to Montreal and become the Alouettes in 1996.
Matthews did not follow the team to Montreal, but returned to Toronto and led an Argos team that featured quarterback Doug Flutie to consecutive Grey Cup titles ('96-'97).
Matthews led the Als to the Grey Cup game three times, winning in 2002.