In the most predictable move of the 2022 CFL season, the Montreal Alouettes fired head coach Khari Jones on Wednesday and general manager Danny Maciocia has taken over.
It was a forced transfer of power that everyone across the league saw coming but the future in La Belle Province is much less clear. Maciocia has stated publicly that he will not continue as head coach next season and that the search for Jones’ permanent replacement is ongoing, meaning there will be a new face at the helm come 2023.
The Alouettes have almost a full year to evaluate the best and brightest candidates from around the CFL and won’t get a chance to interview their favourites until after this season is over. That leaves fans plenty of time to speculate regarding who should be on the sidelines at Percival Molson Stadium.
In that vein, here are ten of the top candidates who could be hired as Montreal’s next head coach, plus a bonus contender to get the rumour mill going.
Jason Maas, Saskatchewan Roughriders
Current role: offensive coordinator
Yes, it may seem strange to fire your head coach for team discipline issues and then turn around to hire a guy best known for smashing headsets and punching Gatorade jugs. Nevertheless, Maas has to be considered the favourite for the job.
Saskatchewan’s fiery offensive coordinator spent five seasons as Maciocia’s quarterback in Edmonton and has previously coached Trevor Harris to a 4,000-yard season. While Maas’ offences with the Riders have yet to light the world on fire, his previous four-year stint as the head coach in Edmonton produced a winning record (39-33) and three playoff appearances.
Noel Thorpe, Montreal Alouettes
Current role: defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach
While Danny Maciocia wouldn’t outright say that Noel Thorpe was a 2023 head coaching candidate in his press conference this week, it’s pretty clear he brought his long-time friend into the building to replace fired defensive coordinator Barron Miles for a reason.
The Vancouver native has been a CFL coaching staple for 20 years but has yet to earn a head coaching gig. This could be his best opportunity, as Thorpe has resided in Montreal ever since Maciocia brought him to the city to help coach the Carabins after both were fired in Edmonton.
Mark Kilam, Calgary Stampeders
Current role: special teams coordinator and assistant head coach
This is the man who should be at the top of every team’s head-coaching short-list this offseason and Montreal is no exception. From humble beginnings as a high school assistant in Cochrane, Alberta, Kilam has risen through the ranks to become one of the most respected coaches in the CFL.
Promoting special teams coordinators to the head job has been a successful formula of late and Kilam shares many of the traits that have made the likes of Mike O’Shea and Craig Dickenson great at their jobs. If Maciocia wants someone who can seize control of the sideline and inspire a locker room, there is no better candidate.
Buck Pierce, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Current role: offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach
Firing Khari Jones not only leaves Montreal needing a new head coach, but a new offensive coordinator as well. As a result, it makes a great deal of financial sense to bring in an offensive-minded head coach and Buck Pierce is clearly the next man up in that regard in the CFL.
The 40-year-old former quarterback has been groomed in the league’s best organization for nine years and won a Grey Cup in his first season as the play-caller, helping put Zach Collaros in position to win Most Outstanding Player.
Mark Washington, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Current role: defensive coordinator and assistant head coach
Of all the league’s current defensive coordinators, Mark Washington is the most deserving of his first head coaching shot based on a combination of time served and success on the field. His first year in Hamilton saw the Ticats allow the fewest points in franchise history and the defence has remained outstanding, even when other units have struggled.
The problem with hiring Washington is the same that comes with all other defensive candidates. If Maciocia wishes for Thorpe to stick around, will a defensive-minded head coach be willing to run someone else’s system?
Brent Monson, Calgary Stampeders
Current role: defensive coordinator
Another long-time Stamps’ coach who has paid his dues for 13 years, Monson stepped seamlessly into the defensive coordinator role vacated by DeVone Claybrooks in 2019 and hasn’t looked back.
The McMaster University graduate could have a slight advantage over some other defensive candidates thanks to his experience coaching the offensive side of the ball as well. People forget that it was Monson who served as running backs coach during Jon Cornish’s best years in Calgary.
Bob Dyce, Ottawa Redblacks
Current role: special teams coordinator
Hiring Bob Dyce as the next head coach of the Alouettes might elicit a collective yawn across the fanbase but it really shouldn’t. The 56-year-old consistently has one of the league’s finest special teams units and has an offensive background that will allow him to coach the whole team.
If Maciocia wants a steady hand to right Montreal’s ship, Dyce might have the steadiest around and he deserves a bigger opportunity to prove it than his 3-6 interim stint with Saskatchewan in 2015.
Mike Benevides, Ottawa Redblacks
Current role: defensive coordinator
How’s this for a fact? In his three years as head coach of the B.C. Lions, Benevides posted a 33-21 winning record and made three straight playoff appearances. Yet he still hasn’t been given another opportunity at a top job since 2014.
That’s a problem that needs to be rectified at some point and Montreal is as good a place as any.
Ryan Phillips, B.C. Lions
Current role: defensive coordinator
At just 39 years old, Phillips has been a revelation since he joined the B.C. Lions coaching staff in 2019. The future Hall of Fame defensive back has cultivated the most dangerous secondary in the league and he’s on a head coaching trajectory, but it’s probably a long shot to happen this coming hiring cycle.
Montreal is likely to be wary of hiring a true “players’ coach” after Khari’s struggle with discipline and hiring someone with just three seasons of experience wearing a whistle is a tough sell. If the Alouettes were comfortable with that level of inexperience, you’d have to imagine Anthony Calvillo would be rising faster in the organization.
Danny Maciocia, Montreal Alouettes
Current role: general manager and interim head coach
Yes, Danny Maciocia insists that he will not be on the sideline come 2023 and that the Alouettes do not want a GM with dual titles, but does anyone really believe him?
Given how predictable the firing of Jones was, you’d think someone who really didn’t want to be head coach would’ve had a better contingency plan in place. If Maciocia sees any level of success in the role he’s once dreamed about, it may be hard to give it up.
Bonus candidate: Marc Trestman
Current role: adjunct professor, University of Miami School of Law
It’s likely a longshot that the 66-year-old Trestman would return to Canada for a third stint but he is currently without a coaching job and his willingness to comment on the league’s offseason controversies means the CFL is never far from his mind.
If Alouettes owner Gary Stern is looking to make a splash and reinvigorate the fan base, there is no easier way to do that than by bringing in a three-time Grey Cup champion who produced the team’s last dynasty.