Revisionist history notwithstanding, there are only two plausible explanations for the convoluted process that brought Jim Popp and Marc Trestman to the Toronto Argonauts. Either this was president Michael Copeland’s plan all along – in which case it was inherently and spectacularly flawed – or this was the end result following a series of missteps and rejections by other candidates.
Which doesn’t mean it won’t work out just fine.
Popp and Trestman were formally announced on Tuesday as the general manager and head coach of the Toronto Argonauts with Copeland spending much of his time at the podium looking to set the record straight as how, exactly, it took him three whole months to decide to hire two guys who were unemployed when the 2016 CFL season ended last November. Popp, Copeland insisted, was a candidate early on and no, the job wasn’t offered to a series of NFL-types who turned it down. Both things have been widely – and it says here, accurately – reported.
Instead, Copeland says the hires are simply the end result of a long and thorough process that nonetheless forced the team to endure significant portions of the off-season with either a dead-man-walking general manager – incredibly, Jim Barker wasn’t fired until Jan. 24 – or no general manager at all, including during the all-important free agency period. Copeland, Popp and Trestman all insisted that’s no big deal: every other personnel guy in the CFL says otherwise.
The consequences of Copeland’s “process” are illustrated nicely by quarterback Drew Willy. Barker, desperate to save the team’s season and his job, sent a first-round draft pick and a promising defensive back to Winnipeg for Willy last September – a trade that, if there was any question about his future with the club, Barker shouldn’t have been allowed to make. After missing the playoffs anyway, Barker restructured Willy’s deal and gave him a $7o,000 signing bonus. Trestman’s first move as head coach? Naming Ricky Ray his starting quarterback.
In other words, the new regime doesn’t look at Drew Willy the same way the old one did. That’s perfectly fine, understandable even. But it’s something the team should have known months ago, before they renewed their commitment to a guy who is now clearly a back up quarterback.
Trestman’s decision to name Ray the starter without, by his own admission, having seen Willy play was the only mildly shocking element of Tuesday’s presser. Ray is 37-years-old and been limited by injury to less than 11 starts a season since arriving in Toronto five years ago.
But Trestman’s previous CFL success, which included two Grey Cups in five seasons, came with Anthony Calvillo at quarterback and it’s clear he’ll try and recreate that success with Ray, despite the fact he’s almost two years older than Calvillo was when Trestman arrived in La Belle Province.
And if there’s a nagging question about Trestman’s success in Montreal, that’s it: how much of it is attributable to his own coaching acumen and how much was due to the fact that the greatest quarterback of a generation was already in place when he arrived? Trestman was 57-26 with Calvillo at the helm and just 2-5 without and while that’s not a huge sample size, his coaching record since his departure – 13-19 two seasons as head coach of the Chicago Bears, a year-and-a-bit as offensive coordinator in Baltimore – isn’t exactly sparkling.
It’s certainly clear that the modern incarnation of Jim Popp – i.e. the one without Calvillo and Trestman – wasn’t a rousing success. The Alouettes burned through 10 quarterbacks post A.C. and the team has gone 30-42 the last four seasons as Popp went through two separate stints as the team’s head coach. Popp’s version of events is that Montreal ownership was responsible for much of the coaching hijinks that surrounded the team, including his forays to the sidelines.
We’ll soon find out whether Popp and Trestman can rekindle their old magic. The timing of their hiring has added to the degree of difficulty in season one – word is both got three-year deals – but nobody wearing Double Blue seemed keen on using that as an excuse. Popp will be in command of personnel, unencumbered by senior management, while Trestman will be free to coach as he sees fit. Just a few years ago, it was a winning combination.
Copeland, the most important hiring process of his tenure finally done, can resume his attempts to resuscitate the Argonauts’ business operations. If Popp and Trestman can foster another winner, his job will be significantly easier. And if they can’t? Well, by that point, it’s unlikely Copeland will be around to worry about it anyway.