‘It just didn’t resonate with people’: Khari Jones’ failure to address Alouettes’ discipline brings reluctant Danny Maciocia onto sidelines

Photo courtesy: Dominick Gravel

At one time, Danny Maciocia might have considered Montreal Alouettes head coach his dream job. Now that he has the title, he insists he doesn’t want it.

“I never had any intentions to come back onto the sidelines. If I wanted to coach, I had a pretty good gig at the University of Montreal and I could have stayed there for a long, long time,” the Alouettes’ general manager turned interim head coach told the media during a press conference Thursday.

“I had no desire to come down and even throughout this whole process, my first inclination was to take a look at who’s out there who can come in, who can right the ship.”

Predictably, there was no qualified short-term replacement who could be flown in to save the day when Maciocia made the least surprising coaching change in recent CFL history on Wednesday. Gone is the head coach he inherited and never actually wanted, Khari Jones, with defensive coordinator Barron Miles following him out the door. In are Maciocia and long-time friend Noel Thorpe, assuming fresh roles just four weeks into the young CFL season.

It was a move that everyone knew was coming when Maciocia took over as the team’s general manager in 2020. His marriage with Jones was an odd one and a .500 record and two first-round playoff exits would not be enough to make things work.

Never mind that the Alouettes are currently 1-3, a shanked David Cote field goal away from leading the East Division. The start of the 2022 season was nothing more than a sham attempt to stay together for appearances and a firing at the bye week was always inevitable.

That’s not to say that Maciocia didn’t have solid grounds for his decision. A player’s coach to a fault, Khari’s Alouettes team was plagued by a lack of discipline and a parade of flags led them to go 2-7 over the last nine games.

The problem reared its head again in Montreal’s latest loss to Saskatchewan, as two misconduct penalties and the subsequent ejection of defensive tackle Michael Wakefield helped spark a third-quarter surge from the Roughriders. There were altercations between players and coaches on the sideline as well, leading to the release of starting middle linebacker Tre Watson this week. All were issues Jones was ill-equipped to correct.

“It’s not like he has not addressed it in the locker room. I know he has gone out of his way to address it, to the point where it just didn’t resonate with people. It just didn’t register with people even this past weekend and that’s alarming to me,” Maciocia explained.

“There comes a point in time where you’re gonna make a decision with some players, whether you take them off the field and you sit them for a series or you choose not to dress them or you just let them sit on the bench and not let them play for the remainder of the game. When you take a look at that last football game, you could sense on the field that there were some extracurricular activity that was gonna lead to that skirmish that we experienced.”

Jones couldn’t keep his team in line, a persistent problem Maciocia encountered in his rewatch of the last nine games but not the only throughline he found. Jones’ offence was too static, not taking advantage of the intricacies of the CFL game and struggling to capitalize in the red zone.

Meanwhile, the defence was struggling to maintain its identity. They were backsliding after seemingly finding their rhythm late last year and Maciocia wasn’t the only one taking note.

“I can tell you that there were some players that I had a chance to visit with and they expressed that concern,” Maciocia said.

“It was brought to both of their attentions. I sat down with [Jones and Miles], I think it was a meeting for two hours. We talked about it and clearly, after the game versus Saskatchewan, I still saw the deficiencies in some of the stuff that we were doing conceptually on defence.”

The solution on that front will be Thorpe, a 20-year CFL veteran who joins the Alouettes for the third time in his career. His last stint ended in firing back in 2017, the last time a Montreal general manager deemed it necessary to slide down to the sideline mid-season.

“We see things the same way and philosophically on the defensive side of the ball, he’s someone that’s gonna bring it every single game, every single practice, every single meeting,” Maciocia said. “He’s structured, he’s firm, he’s demanding, and the discipline aspect, I think, will get taken care of with someone like Noel Thorpe in the mix.”

Maciocia’s own role will be more to do with oversight, as receivers coach Michael Lionello has been tapped to handle the offensive play-calling duties. He insists that his time on the bench will last only until the end of this year and a new head coach will be in place for 2023, ensuring that the team will once again have a dedicated general manager.

Until then, there will be plenty of decisions to make, including who will be the team’s starting quarterback going forward. That will likely be veteran Trevor Harris, though Maciocia says an official announcement, one way or the other, will be made on Sunday.

Maciocia has plenty of coaching pedigree, being the only person to win both a Grey Cup and Vanier Cup as a head coach. However, sparking an Alouettes turnaround will be a tall order for a man who has not patrolled a professional sideline in 14 years and was run out of Edmonton back in 2008 with a sub .500 career winning percentage.

Nevertheless, Alouettes owner Gary Stern briefly joined the team’s press conference to say he has complete confidence in the decisions made by Maciocia and president Mario Cecchini.

“When you ask, are we on the right track? Yeah, we are because these two guys are saying we are and nobody loves the city of Montreal, the Montreal Alouettes, nobody loves it more than them,” Stern insisted. “I’d be foolish not to listen.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.