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Calvillo's status, head coaching job key questions in Alouettes off-season

11/11/2013 08:35 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
MONTREAL - By Montreal Alouettes standards, it was a dreadful season.

But considering the turmoil and injuries to key veterans they endured, finishing 8-10 and in third place in the CFL East Division wasn't a shock.

"We had a lot of changes," all-star linebacker Chip Cox said Monday. "With a lot of young guys, we were never able to get stability until the end of the season. And then we ran out of time."

The Alouettes season ended Sunday afternoon in Guelph, Ont., when a defence that had been rock solid all day allowed Hamilton to march 97 yards against a stiff wind to tie a game and later win the East semifinal 19-16 in overtime.

"That's something everybody on the defence should think about the whole off-season," added Cox, whose team has not won a playoff game in three years since winning back-to-back Grey Cups. "As well as we played the whole game, we gave it up."

The Alouettes matched the worst won-lost record (2007) they put up since the franchise returned to Montreal in 1996 after a 10-yard hiatus. But they made the playoffs, and perhaps even made a key transition that could serve them well in 2014.

Anthony Calvillo, the CFL's all-time passing leader, suffered a season-ending concussion in August, giving the team a chance to audition Josh Neiswander, Tanner Marsh and new front-runner Troy Smith for the quarterback job.

The 41-year-old Calvillo will discuss his future with team owner Bob Wetenhall on the weekend, but said lingering concussion symptoms have him leaning toward retirement.

Smith, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner, will go to training camp gunning for the starting job.

"My training and preparation has led me to know that I can be a starter here," said Smith, who only signed in August but took over the No. 1 job down the stretch. "The way I will prepare is definitely from a starter's standpoint."

Quarterback was only one source of turmoil this season.

It started before the season, when Marc Trestman left after five seasons to become head coach of the Chicago Bears and took some of the coaching staff with him. His replacement, the blustery Dan Hawkins, lasted only five games before he was replaced at the bench by general manager Jim Popp.

Then the injuries started, as Calvillo, top running back Brandon Whitaker, ace receiver Jamel Richardson, all-star guard Scott Flory and a slew of others went down for the season.

The injuries caused a mid-season overhaul of the offence, turning what had for years been the club's greatest strength into it's weak point. Instead, it as the stellar play of the defence that kept scores close.

Fumbles, interceptions and other turnovers and mistakes caused left the Alouettes just short of enough points to win time after time. That placekicker Sean Whyte, who is headed for free agency, went into a slump late in the season meant even more points left on the field.

"As talented an offence as we are, we had trouble scoring three touchdowns a game," said Popp. "I've said that we have to score 30 points or more.

"We weren't doing that. We weren't consistent enough on special teams. Those things add up to not winning a game by two or three points."

Another big off-season question is whether Popp will continue coaching. He said Wetenhall will decide, but he's ready to return if wanted. Popp was also coach during that 8-10 season in 2007.

Cox, for one, is assuming there will be a new bench boss.

"Jim's going to have to hire a head coach," he said. "He's a GM and it's hard to juggle two jobs.

"And we lost our assistant GM (Marcel Desjardins) to Ottawa, so there was a lot on his plate. I think we have the right tools, now we just need the right person to put those tools to work. It's like we have the lumber and now we need the carpenter to get the work done."

Popp said the front office has been restaffed and it would be no trouble to do both jobs again.

But if he does have to hire a new man, he won't make the mistake he made with Hawkins by hiring someone with no experience coaching pro players. However, as was the case with Trestman, he wouldn't hesitate to sign a coach with no CFL experience.

He said a decision must be made soon, as Edmonton and Winnipeg are also hunting for head coaches and the teams may be interviewing some of the same people.

The hope is to have stability when camp opens in the spring, as opposed to the confusion that reigned this year.

Popp's GM skills were in evidence this season as there was a strong player ready to step when each injury hit. Tyrrell Sutton will give Whitaker a run for his money in camp, and Duron Carter turned out to be spectacular in Richardson's spot at slotback.

It wasn't enough to get a muddled team on track, however.

"It was a weird season because everyone came in with both feet in the water and we bought into everything that Hawkins was trying to teach and things just didn't work out," said rush end John Bowman. "It went from him being fired, and then AC got hurt and trying to learn a new offence.

"The defence was just trying to hold the ship until the offence could get it together."

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