In a perfect scenario, Danny Maciocia would like to have been hired as the Montreal Alouettes’ new general manager a month ago.

That’s not the reality for Maciocia who was officially appointed to the position on January 13, less than one month prior to the opening of the Canadian Football League’s free agent market on February 11.

“We’re clearly behind the 8-ball, I’m not going to deny it. I’ve already started to take a look at the roster. There’s some roster bonuses that are coming up. There’s some free agency decisions, whether we sign people or we don’t. Who are we pursuing? These are all conversations that have to take place in the next little while,” Maciocia said.

Director of football operations Eric Deslauriers has been running the Als since the end of the 2019 regular season. He was promoted and earned a new contract which runs through the end of 2020. Joe Mack, who was serving as assistant general manager, hasn’t been involved since the schedule finished last year.

“We gotta establish a scouting base south of the border to attract the U.S. talent. We’ve got a neg list to contend with. There’s a lot of work. And I haven’t even addressed the topic of the CFL draft. We’re just going to hit it with all these good people that we have in place,” Maciocia said. 

“They’re going to get me up to speed because I’m going to lean on them. They’re clearly well aware of some of the challenges that lay ahead. I’m going to bring my level of expertise and we’re going to surround ourselves with some people that we feel can bring some value.”

Maciocia’s next immediate task will be to put trusted scouts around him who have networks around the United States, Canada and even globally. The 52-year-old doesn’t have to worry about hiring a head coach because Khari Jones was inked to a contract extension through 2022 after leading a remarkable turnaround.

“I know what the perception is out there that clearly you want to be aligned where the president hires the general manager and the general manager hires the head coach. When you just take a look at what coach Jones had to deal with last year — tremendously difficult circumstances — I don’t see how you don’t give him a three-year deal. I don’t see how you don’t give him the opportunity to lead this football team moving forward,” Maciocia said. 

“He was dealt a bad hand to be quite honest with you and for him to come out of it on top, I was even surprised that he wasn’t named coach of the year in the CFL. So I think he’s worthy, I think we’re fortunate to have him in Montreal, I’m extremely privileged to have the opportunity to work with him. Had the roles maybe been reversed, I don’t think I would’ve done it any differently.”

Jones was a quarterback for two stints in Edmonton when Maciocia was head coach for the Eskimos, so the two men are familiar with one another. Since joining the Alouettes, Jones attended University of Montreal Carabins games the last couple years and he’s been out to dinner with Maciocia.

“Is there work? Absolutely. Do we have some issues with the roster? I’m not going to lie to you, I’m going to be transparent, yes we do. But is there the willingness to clean it up and make the changes that we need to make to become a competitive team? Absolutely. That’s going to be our No. 1 objective is to be competitive every single week,” Maciocia said. 

Outspoken owner Gary Stern believes the Als can be more than just competitive in 2020. He envisions Montreal hoisting the Grey Cup in Regina at Mosaic Stadium. The last time the Alouettes won the CFL title was 2010.

“No it’s not for fun — we’re winning. I’ve never gone into anything without confidence, without being positive. If you surround yourself with great people, anything’s possible. We went 10-8 — I really believe we can win it this year. There’s a lot of things that have to happen, but we have to go into it believing we can,” Stern said. 

Toronto didn’t have a GM or head coach in place until late February in 2017 and the Argos were a league-worst 5-13 in 2016. Trestman guided the boatmen to a Grey Cup championship, beating the Calgary Stampeders. The Alouettes are a month and a half ahead of that timeline.

“I’m not going to guarantee anything, except for one thing,” Maciocia said. 

“Yes you did,” Stern quipped, referring to the Grey Cup. 

“Contrary to Gary, what I will guarantee you is that I’ll give you everything I’ve got.”

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Justin Dunk is a CFL insider, sports reporter and news anchor.