Drew & Dunk: Possible front office changes on the horizon in Montreal and Toronto

With the regular season now complete, the 2016 CFL campaign has come to a close for three teams. Two of those three clubs could see major changes in their football operations leadership while the third could be saying goodbye to one of their highest profile players.

Welcome to the first edition of Drew It Up, Then Dunked It.

In this randomly-timed column, we (that’s 3DownNation editor Drew Edwards and senior reporter Justin Dunk) plan to present a unique combination of speculation and analysis, combining our insider knowledge – what sources from around the league are telling us – with our own understanding of how things fit together. It’s a little bit of gossip combined with some knowledge and context added in. To be clear, we’re not reporting anything – we’ll do that separately – but we’re not taking wild guesses, either.

With those caveats in place, let’s get started.

In Montreal, there is speculation that general manager Jim Popp is on his way out after 20 years at the helm of the Alouettes. The Als have missed the playoffs for the past two seasons and the team has run through five head coaches since Marc Trestman left after the 2012 season – including Popp for two interim stints. The quarterback situation has been unsettled since Anthony Calvillo retired and the latest candidate – Vernon Adams, who won his three starts this season – cost the team a first-round pick in the 2017 CFL draft. Adams may prove to be worth the investment.

While he has always enjoyed the support of owner Bob Wettenhall, son Andrew – now the team’s lead governor at the CFL level – is said to be less enamoured with Popp’s performance. The decision to hire Jacques Chapdelaine as the interim coach – as opposed Popp loyalist Kavis Reed – was seen by some as an erosion of Popp’s influence, as was the release of receivers Duron Carter and Kenny Stafford, both of whom Popp had retained despite multiple controversies.

If Popp is pushed out – and again, we’re not saying its happening for sure – the obvious question becomes who replaces him? There are a couple of options.

The return of Trestman is an interesting scenario, particularly after his recent firing as the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. Trestman’s NFL options may be narrowing, though it’s likely he could land as quarterback’s coach somewhere next season. To get him, the Alouettes would likely have to hand him full control of football operations – general manager and head coach – and a sizeable salary.

The Als not be alone in their interest. More on that in a minute.

Many believe the leading candidate for the general manager job in Montreal is none other than former Edmonton Eskimos head coach and general manager Danny Maciocia, who is currently running the football program at the University of Montreal. Maciocia has a CFL track record, a high profile in Montreal and speaks both official languages – something the Alouettes learned the value of when they hired Chapdelaine and sold out the following week.

Maciocia could then look to promote long-time defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe as head coach as the two worked together in both Edmonton and at the University of Montreal. It’s also possible that ownership would push Maciocia to keep Chapdelaine.

If Popp stays, he may look to retain Chapdelaine as head coach as well, particularly after his late run of success (4-2 since taking over on an interim basis) and his popularity in the francophone market. While many have speculated that Anthony Calvillo would be given the job next season, most around the league don’t believe Calvillo is ready for the job: to save his job, Popp may be forced to stick with Chapdelaine.

The future is also cloudy in Toronto, where both head coach Scott Milanovich and general manager Jim Barker could be on the hot seat. The Argos’ first season at BMO Field hasn’t been a success on or off the field and the team’s poor showing further damaged struggling Grey Cup ticket sales: the franchise may need a change of leadership in yet another attempt to reinvigorate the fan base.

It may be already happening: there are rumours that Barker has lost the ability to make football-related decisions without checking with senior management and ownership. The desperate trade for quarterback Drew Willy, which cost the team a first-round pick and a promising young defensive back, was particularly disastrous at the current time.

If both Barker and Milanovich are let go, there’s talk that Trestman could be a candidate for a dual role in the Big Smoke. He’d be the big name and proven winner that the Argonauts could sell as a move in the right direction. Otherwise, the double blue could be looking at bringing back a familiar name in three-time Grey Cup winner Eric Tillman, who has worked in Toronto in the past. Even Popp if he’s done in Montreal. Or they could take a chance on one of the many young guns around the league (Brock Sunderland, the assistant general manager in Ottawa, is often the top name among this set.)

If Barker stays, it could be Milanovich that pays the price: he frequently took responsibility for the team’s performance down the stretch. If that’s the case, a leading candidate to replace him would be current Hamilton defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer, his contract with the Ticats expires after the season.

While the CFL playoffs are set to begin next weekend, the race for 2017 may be set to begin. Unfortunately for Montreal, Toronto and Saskatchewan, this isn’t the head start they were hoping for.

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