When Jim Popp and Marc Trestman were announced as the new general manager and head coach of the Toronto Argonauts, it marked the end of a long, deliberate process that began at BBQ joint in North Carolina.
Toronto Argonauts president Michael Copeland reached out to the former Montreal Alouettes general manager soon after relieving former GM Jim Barker of his duties, arranging to spend the day at his home in Charlotte. Copeland’s request: take me to the best southern BBQ restaurant in the area.
“I ate so much there that I didn’t eat again for 24 hours, so Jim fully delivered. Everything: pulled pork, brisket, corn bread,” Copeland explains. “It had all of these NASCAR cars, it was a roadhouse like right out of the movies.”
Between savoury mouthfuls of southern fair, the two men discussed football. Popp was coming off his 20-year run with the Montreal Alouettes and Copeland explained the Argos were trying to rebuild the brand in Toronto and make the franchise relevant again.
“We really found a great connection,” Copeland says.
Over the course of their discussion, and meal, it became clear to the Argo’s president that Popp would be on the short list of candidates for the general manager job. But he told Popp that it was important the management team go through a full hiring process.
“Our ownership had no relationship with Jim Popp,” Copeland explains. “They certainly respected my opinion, but I wanted to put them in a position where they could objectively evaluate all available options.”
So Copeland sought out other candidates, largely with NFL experience at the general manager level. Through that process, which Argos ownership was very much involved, Popp emerged as the successful candidate.
“Jim competed for the job and won the job. I was thrilled with that because of course I went into that with the assumption, belief, and hope that he would, and he did,” Copeland says.
Trestman entered the equation as Copeland talked to people across the football world about Popp: Trestman coached five seasons under Popp when the two were together in Montreal.
“Our first several conversations were strictly about Jim, and Marc’s experience with him,” Copeland says. “It was through those conversations when I would explain what we’re trying to do here in Toronto, and how this is so much more than just winning on the field, that’s a huge part, but it’s really about how we’re going to make the Argos big here.”
That piqued Trestman’s interest, Copeland believes, which led the 61-year-old to speak with Popp about the possibility of coaching in Toronto.
“Really it was those two that then got together and said why don’t we take another run at this together,” Copeland says. “That’s another reason why in terms of timing, things extended a little bit in the last few weeks because the dynamic changed.”
Copeland always had his eye on whether Trestman would be interested in coming back to the CFL and he was looking for an opportunity during conversations to share the Argos vision with the two-time Grey Cup champion bench boss. That said, it was important to Copeland that the general manager hires the head coach.
“I think that there are other teams in the league that are probably looking at us and hoping that they had known that Marc had an interest in coming back. I don’t know that he would’ve come back to any other team other than the Argonauts and what we’re trying to do in the city,” Copeland says. “He loves the city and certainly his working relationship with Jim is a huge part of it. He’s a guy that wants to achieve big things and that’s what really we’re all about.”
Popp and Trestman understand how to build and lead an organization, which will be especially important for 2017 with a shorter than normal time frame to get ready for the season.
“In terms of our ability to be prepared for training camp, we’re going to hit the ground running,” Copeland says. “These guys have already been at it for several weeks in terms of putting their plans together. They’ve got a great idea on coaches, systems, how they’re going to augment our roster. I’m very comfortable that we’re going to be in good shape going into camp.”