The Montreal Alouettes may have made the biggest splash in the CFL Draft, moving up to first overall in order to select Tyrell Richards, but all is not well in La Belle Province.
Long-time Montreal Gazette beat writer Herb Zurkowsky joined Melnick in the Afternoon on TSN 690 this week to discuss the team’s immediate future and was classically pessimistic about their prospects.
“I’ll tell you the truth, and they won’t like this, but I need to see that they’re going to be better than they were last season,” Zurkowsky said.
“They’ve lost some significant pieces on defence and while the offence pretty well remains status quo, it was an offence that was good and not so good at times. This was a team that I think they were 6-4 after 10 games, and they finished 7-7, so they didn’t finish well. They obviously lost the playoff game.”
After that disappointing finish, there is friction in the building and as anyone who took grade school science knows, friction creates heat. That heat is specifically emanating from the chair of head coach Khari Jones.
“You have a head coach that the general manager inherited. You have a head coach that needed to be the bad cop at times last season and was not too often,” Zurkowsky explained. “Khari Jones is on the hot seat, there’s no doubt about it. He’s going into the last year of his contract as well, but he’s not alone.”
Jones was widely criticized in 2021 for the Alouettes’ lack of discipline, which came to a head in their playoff loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Als fell 23-12 while being flagged 12 times for 115 yards and turning the football over five times.
Current general manager Danny Maciocia did not hire Jones, it was former Als’ GM Kavis Reed who gave Jones his first head coaching job in the CFL. The 50-year-old has a 17-15 win-loss record during his two seasons with Montreal.
If that mediocre trend continues in an improved East Division, Jones won’t be around much longer and others will follow him out the door. Namely his starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who Zurkowsky also believes is feeling warmth beneath his cheeks.
“Every season, I’m going to say the same thing at this time of year. It all depends on the play you get out of your quarterback and Vernon Adams was inconsistent last season before the season-ending shoulder injury,” he noted.
“He had some exceptional games. He had some games that were less than exceptional. I found that he threw into coverage a little too often, just tried making things happen when something wasn’t there.”
As a result, the offseason has been a rocky one for the young star. While he did sign a massive contract extension to stay with the Alouettes, the team surprised many by retaining the services of veteran starter Trevor Harris.
The feeling around the league is that Adams Jr. has the confidence of his head coach, while GM Danny Maciocia prefers the more steady-handed Harris, providing him more than $100,000 in financial bonuses if he is able to supplant the incumbent. Zurkowsky, frankly, isn’t sold on either.
“The Trevor Harris stats look great on paper. The touchdown-to-interception ratio is great, the percentage of completions is great, but — and I think Trevor Harris would probably say this himself — they were 1-3 with him as the starter and then they lost the playoff game,” he said.
Either way, Jones and Maciocia’s differing visions promise to come to a head if the Alouettes don’t find early success in 2022. When the chips are down, it will be the general manager who gets a chance to remain.
“Let’s see how they start out, let’s see how the season goes. You obviously hate to make a coaching change in mid-stream, that generally never really works out,” Zurkowsky said.
“But this is a performance-driven business and going into the final year of his contract, Khari Jones has to win games there. There’s no disputing that.”