There had been no franchise in pro football that set the standard like the San Francisco 49ers did a generation ago.
They had a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback, a legendary coach and a hall-of-fame architect. And they won championships. Boy, few owned titles more than those Niners did with the trio of Joe Montana, Bill Walsh and Eddie DeBartolo.
Then, as that era began to fizzle, ownership got muddied, the quarterback quickly turned old and concussed, and the coach stepped away. In the aftermath, a second-generation owner craving control pushed away Jim Harbaugh when the franchise looked to have a glimmer of hope again, and allowed an assistant coach who manoeuvred the halls well politically (Jim Tomsula) to have the top job.
Since Harbaugh left, the 49ers have been without a legit quarterback and now may very well be the biggest disgrace in football. But the owner is Jed York, who happens to be Eddie DeBartolo’s nephew, and just ask him: thankfully he has all the power in the football building.
Which brings us to the Montreal Alouettes.
When the franchise unveiled Don Matthews as its coach some fifteen November’s ago – to the chagrin of league officials, for disrupting their precious news blackout during Grey Cup week – so began a run not dissimilar to their colleagues in Northern California.
Under the trio of Matthews-Popp-Calvillo, the Als won the Grey Cup in 2002 and found themselves back in the title game in 2003, 2005 and 2006. Marc Trestman arrived in 2008, replacing The Don in the historical triangle, and Montreal reached three straight championship games, holding back-to-back parades in 2009 and 2010.
The gold standard in the CFL was Montreal. They sold out every game at McGill’s Molson Stadium, becoming – believe it or not – a hotter ticket than the historic Habs, for a minute, and under Bob Wetenhall’s ownership there was stability – and sanity – in reporting structures.
Then the inevitable: Calvillo got old and concussed, Trestman left for Chicago, Popp became obsessed with coaching and a couple of years ago, another second generation owner, this time Andrew Wetenhall, took over the controls.
And now, today: an assistant manoeuvring the political climate with ownership, Jacques Chapdelaine, is the unquestioned head coach after knocking off a 4-2 record. It appears the Als are on the verge of making Kavis Reed GM, he of zero front office management experience. And their hopes of hiring a President of Football Operations blew up, because nobody seemed to know who would report to whom and who had control of the day-to-day decision making. Oh, and there’s no established starting quarterback in Montreal either. The fifth straight season they’re in that boat.
Jed York wants to be front and centre in San Francisco, and as the dysfunction played out last week it appears Andrew is set on doing the same with the Alouettes. He’s willing to hire inexperienced folks in power positions, knowing full well that he’ll have final say.
Pro sports is full of these examples, and so, too is the CFL: the Feterik’s in Calgary, where owner Michael insisted his son, Kevin, play quarterback; the Glieberman’s in Ottawa, where Lonie was more concerned with courting cheerleaders and resurrecting dudes from the ashes because he once owned their football card in his youth.
What are the model franchises in sport? New England has Kraft-Belichick-Brady. San Antonio had the same owner, coach (Popovich) and fixture (Duncan) for two decades. Chicago hasn’t wavered from Rocky Wirtz, Coach Q and Toews/Kane. They’ve won three Cups in six years.
But then along the way comes Jed York and in short order, an organization that set the standard for the rest has become the biggest running joke in the NFL. Let’s not even begin on the downfall of the Lakers since Dr. Jerry Buss died, and his kids took over.
The Alouettes have sold out one game in the past five years. They’ve won one playoff game since Trestman left in 2012. No CFL franchise has gone longer without a Grey Cup appearance than Montreal.
Ownership can do what it wants. But if the priority is pulling the puppet strings, over constructing a proper structure, then the whole thing will fall apart at the seams.
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