Jim Popp has realized his mistake and fired Dan Hawkins as head coach of the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes, installing himself as interim successor.
In making the hiring early this year, the team's successful general manager may have fallen victim to a) hubris, or b) the fact his franchise is about the only one in league history that has gotten away long-term with hiring an American with no knowledge of the Canadian game.
Put another way, you might blame this on the success of Marc Trestman and Marv Levy.
Hawkins came north after a successful career with Boise State University (53-11), a lousy one at Colorado (19-39) and a couple of seasons on ESPN as an analyst. That's a darn poor resume in the first place, but the error was compounded by Popp's decision to install Mike Miller as an offensive coordinator.
He didn't know the CFL either and they were coming to a club that featured a 40-year-old quarterback in Anthony Calvillo who was used to winning by doing things the Trestman way, and who had an immensely close relationship with his field boss.
So much so that when Trestman was hired as head coach by the Chicago Bears in January, he brought AC in this spring to help tutor his quarterbacks on the offence.
Think about that - a CFL pivot explaining an offence to NFL quarterbacks.
So in came Hawkins, with experienced Canadian game coach Doug Berry as "senior advisor" (though how much advice the new guy took is unknown), and nothing went right. The Als were 2-3, a mark that included blowing a 24-0 first-quarter lead - a CFL record.
Calvillo's frustration was evident, throwing his hands up for the world to see, standing by himself a long way from the brain trust.
Popp had to do something, and he did.
If you go back over the 65-year history of CFL head coaches, there are surprisingly few who came to Canada with no experience in three-down football on a longer, wider field with endless motion. Most who did were not successful.
- Forrest Gregg, a Hall of Famer with the Green Bay Packers, took over the Toronto Argonauts in 1979 and went 5-11. He then had a solid NFL career on the sidelines.
- Fred Glick, an excellent player in the old American Football League, went 3-15 with the 1987 Ottawa Rough Riders.
- Dave Beckman was 2-12 over parts of two years in Hamilton (1990-1991).
- John Rauch (as in grouch) came from the NFL and was a decent 7-5-2 with the Argos in Joe Theismann's last year (1973), but saw his team collapse 32-10 in overtime against Montreal in the playoffs. He was fired after a bad first half the next year.
- And then there's Bart Andrus, a likeable man totally out of his league, who was 3-15 in 2009 with Toronto. He tried to call his own plays and never got it.
Once or twice things worked out, such as U.S. college legend Darryl Rogers, 9-9 with Winnipeg in 1991 at a time when the Bombers going .500 wasn't acceptable.
Those of us with a long memory recall Frank Kush, the fired Arizona State coach who came to Hamilton in 1981, went 11-4-1, spent the season having spats with his players and was released following it.
Kush is important here because he's the perfect circle back to Montreal. He may have had problems in the dressing room but he darn well knew how to adapt, and he worked out how to win in the Canadian game.
Enter Levy, who came to the Alouettes in 1973 on the recommendation of legendary NFL coach George Allen, for whom he worked in Washington. The new sideline boss had no CFL experience.
After a 7-6-1 year and a chance to work things out, Levy went to three Grey Cup games, won two and compiled a 43-31-4 mark. His subsequent NFL coaching career put him in the hall of fame.
Jim Popp brought Marc Trestman north in 2008 with 17 years behind him on NFL sidelines and no CFL background. Perhaps significantly, he was a quarterback guru who knew how to train the best out of his students.
He did just that with Calvillo, convincing an aging athlete who had already achieved much to re-invent himself.
Over five years (same as Levy), Trestman was 59-31, winning two championships before Da Bears called.
Popp made a mistake with Hawkins, but having seen it work once with Trestman, on a team where it had been successful twice, you can understand it. What can't be explained is the lack of an offensive coordinator who knew the game to work with the newcomer.
It will be up to the excellent football media in Montreal to work out what was going on behind the scenes, but I do know this:
Popp's a straightforward guy. Expect him to take the blame, as he should. Now he's on the sidelines again himself, straightening out the mess.
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