‘I haven’t seen a difference’: TSN analyst Matt Dunigan believes Alouettes’ coaching change was a ‘witch hunt’

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Alouettes’ general manager Danny Maciocia brought the axe down on head coach Khari Jones mid-season in the hopes of turning his team’s fortunes around, but not everyone believes Montreal is better off with their GM on the sideline.

Hall of Fame quarterback and CFL on TSN panellist Matt Dunigan joined Shaun Starr on TSN 690’s The Morning Show following the Alouettes’ Thursday night loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He didn’t mince words when it came to his opinion on the coaching change three weeks prior.

“I’m not gonna second guess Danny, he’s there every day. I don’t like how Khari was handled. I thought it was a witch hunt just to get a change made, including with [defensive coordinator] Barron Miles getting the boot, getting ousted from his job for Noel Thorpe,” Dunigan said frankly.

“Look, Danny and Noel are quality coaches as well, but I haven’t seen a difference. I think that team could be in disarray right now and it’s tough to go on the road against one of your arch-rivals and lose like that.”

Jones took the Alouettes to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons as head coach but wasn’t hired by Maciocia, who joined the organization a year later. The partnership was never going to last and the general manager made the inevitable move of firing him after a 1-3 start to the 2022 season, claiming issues with team discipline.

Montreal has gone 1-2 since Maciocia installed himself and his close friend Thorpe on the sidelines, with the team being more heavily penalized after the transition. Dunigan simply doesn’t see a football team kickstarted by the change.

“To answer your question, I don’t see a difference and this team is still, I think, struggling and asking themselves pretty hard questions,” he said. “What’s going on here? I think they’re kind of like a deer in the headlights right now with what’s been happening.”

One of those questions will be how to handle the quarterback situation, the first of many bones of contention between Maciocia and Jones. The former coach backed the mobile Vernon Adams Jr. as the face of the franchise heading into the season, while his boss was always a fan of veteran Trevor Harris.

Harris took the reins in Week 2 and has played well since, but Adams Jr. is earning big money to ride the bench — with rumours of a potential trade still swirling. Dunigan is a fan of both Harris’ “death by a thousand cuts” style of play and Adams Jr.’s more electrifying skillset, but he can’t seem to make sense of how Montreal has handled their pivots.

“I don’t know what’s going on over there as far as the quarterbacks are concerned. It’s been a bit of a crapshoot since day one,” Dunigan acknowledged. “Even when Khari was there, the last couple of weeks he had Vernon on the sidelines. Vernon was on one-game [Thursday], he wasn’t even dressed. I can’t honestly answer that question because he’s not even in the lineup at this point.”

All signs point to Harris riding out the season under centre but he wasn’t able to finish the team’s last loss to the Ticats — a game Adams Jr. also missed with injury.

The CFL’s neutral concussion spotter pulled Harris for the final play of the contest after he took a late hit from safety Stavros Katsantonis, forcing third-stringer Dominique Davis to take the game-deciding throw at the endzone. That pass was ultimately intercepted.

Harris expressed his displeasure with the official’s decision to remove him from the action post-game, but Dunigan — who has been vocal about his own experience with head injuries — believes the right call was made on the field. However, the former quarterback said he would have behaved differently than Harris in that moment.

“I would have bounced back up. I wouldn’t have laid on the ground,” Dunigan said. “I want to compete in today’s game, you know that could very well be the outcome if you lay there because then you’re going to get attention. And then you’re going to have to step off the field for three plays.”

“I’m not saying that Trevor’s not tough, he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever seen play the game, but I think in that situation he was dinged and they did what they had to do. Was it tough to see? Yeah, it’s tough to see. There are a lot of plays and decisions and command centre interruptions that are tough to see and watch, but they try to get it right. And they got that one right.”

The whims of the injury spotter are far from Montreal’s biggest worry right now, as they are staring down the barrel of back-to-back matchups with the undefeated Winnipeg Blue Bombers. However, seven of their final nine games are against East Division opponents, leaving the door open for a playoff turnaround.

“It’s tough sledding for this football team right now,” Dunigan said. “But there’s no rest for the weary, that’s for sure.”