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Former Eskimos coach, GM Maciocia content with Vanier Cup contending Carabins

11/20/2014 04:50 EST | Updated 01/20/2015 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - Danny Maciocia is in no hurry to get back into coaching in the Canadian Football League.

The 47-year-old who took the Edmonton Eskimos to a Grey Cup in 2005 is quite content with his current job as head coach of the University of Montreal Carabins.

His team ended the mighty Laval Rouge et Or's 11-year reign as Quebec conference champions and two-year run of national titles in Canadian Interuniversity Sport football with a 12-9 overtime victory in Quebec City last weekend.

Now the Carabins are two wins away from a first Vanier Cup title. It starts Saturday when they play host to the Manitoba Bisons in the Uteck Bowl, with the winner advancing to the Vanier Cup game Nov. 29 at Percival Molson Stadium.

"I've had certain opportunities (to coach in the CFL) the last couple of years," Maciocia said Thursday. "I kept them hush-hush because I didn't want it out there. It could have affected recruiting here.

"But I'm happy here. Honestly, I have one of the best jobs in Canada. I get to do it in my own backyard, at an institution with a strong reputation for academics and that is very encouraging and supportive of their sports teams. You never want to say never, but you'd have think about it real well before you pack up and get back into that rat race because this is a pretty unique job."

The Montreal native's CFL career started as a volunteer coach with the Montreal Alouettes in 1996. He later became offensive co-ordinator and, in 2002, moved to the same job in Edmonton, where he won a Grey Cup in 2003 under coach Tom Higgins.

He replaced Higgins as head coach in 2005 and won a Cup, but then things went south. He was named general manager even though the Eskimos missed the playoffs in 2006 and kept that job until, after years of intense criticism from fans and media, he was fired in July of 2010.

Asked to sum up his years in Edmonton, Maciocia said: "I enjoyed it. I was there for eight years, we went to three Grey Cup games, won two. I wouldn't exchange any of it, especially the last couple of years. It made me realize certain things and forced me to experience things. It probably made me a better football coach."

When Marc Trestman left the Montreal Alouettes to coach the Chicago Bears after the 2012 season, Maciocia was a candidate to replace him. He even met with Alouettes owner Bob Wetenhall in Palm Beach, Fla., but withdrew from the running even before a decision was made.

"It was the right thing to do at the time," he said. "We've got a project here we're still working on. I wanted to see it through its completion."

Maciocia has coached the Carabins since 2011, taking over a team that was in open revolt against the sudden firing of coach Marc Santerre due to what the university felt were lax academic and behavioural standards on the team. Players were threatening to quit the program.

Athletic director Manon Simard issued a statement at the time saying the university hoped to "raise the level of our football program mainly in the areas of athletic performance, academic results and discipline."

Maciocia stepped in and managed to sort it out so that no players left the squad.

And he maintained Montreal's status as the only team in the conference capable of even keeping scores close against Laval, the eight-time national champion that gets heavy private sector financial backing.

Last Saturday, two weeks after closing the regular season with a victory at home over the Rouge et Or, the Carabins handed Laval its first home loss in 71 games since September, 2004.

"They have a different business model than we do, but I believe there's different ways of doing it," said Maciocia. "What they've done for football in the province of Quebec is unbelievable.

"I think you can get it done with good people. We all need money, but you can have money and not have the people in place to get it done. We care about people and we want to make a difference. As much as people talk about the game we just played, our biggest victory is in the way we take care of our student athletes."

As fate would have it, the Alouettes brought in Higgins as head coach this season. His team started 1-7, but then caught fire to finish 9-9. Then they crushed the B.C. Lions 50-17 in the East Division Semifinal to advance to the East final Sunday in Hamilton.

Alouettes defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe worked with Maciocia in Montreal and Edmonton. Maciocia considers Thorpe one of his best friends in football. Some feel Thorpe will take over whenever Higgins leaves, and that would inspire speculation on whether Maciocia would return to the Alouettes.

That thought brought a smile to Maciocia.

"I'd speak to Noel about it, but I think Noel would understand it would be extremely hard for me to leave where I am now," he said. " But he'd be well deserving of an opportunity. He's bright, hard working, ambitious. There's no reason he couldn't be a successful head coach."

Maciocia also stays in touch with Higgins. They exchanged texts this week after both teams won their playoff games.

"Wouldn't that be something for the city if we have two teams in championship games," said Maciocia. "I'm happy for him.

"Tom Higgins is a very good human being. He cares and there's no phoniness. He's always positive and I'm sure that played a huge role in what they were able to do in the second half of the season."

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