Montreal Alouettes general manager Jim Popp didn’t gamble on a first-year CFL coach with his latest hire.

Former Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders bench boss Tom Higgins is taking over from Montreal Alouettes GM Jim Popp on the sideline as head coach to start the 2014 season.

Popp stepped in last August after he fired rookie head coach Dan Hawkins, who coached the Alouettes to a 2-3 record. Montreal looked disorganized and lifeless under Hawkins, who was coaching a professional team for the first time in his career.

"As I've expressed to the media in recent weeks, I wanted to continue with the formula which has brought us the success we've enjoyed these past seventeen years; having a full-time head coach and a full-time general manager to fill each of these positions," Alouettes owner Bob Wetenhall said in a statement released by the team.

"The criteria we established for our next head coach was to find an individual familiar with the CFL, someone with success in that position and a background as a position coach. In addition, we sought an individual with a record for molding and delivering championship teams."

Last December, the 59-year-old Higgins stepped down as the CFL’s director of officiating after serving in that role since April 15, 2008.

Higgins spent more than 25 years as a player, coach and personnel director prior to joining the league’s head office.

Grey Cup champion

He coached the Eskimos for seven seasons from 2001 to 2007, winning a Grey Cup in 2003.

"Tom is known as a great teacher, and as someone who holds himself to the same high standards he does his players," Alouettes president and CEO Mark Weightman said in a statement.

"Tom has worked with and tutored many of the CFL's finest quarterbacks — Doug Flutie, Henry Burris and Ricky Ray, to mention a few. His expertise will be invaluable in the development of Troy Smith and Tanner Marsh."

Higgins is a two-time recipient of the Annis Stukus Trophy as CFL coach of the year, having won the award in 2003 and 2005 with Calgary.

During his playing days, Higgins was a linebacker with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Stampeders in the CFL. He also played the position with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.

Last season, Montreal finished third in the East Division with a 8-10 record, going 6-7 under Popp, whose CFL regular-season coaching record is 16-20. He also has a 1-4 mark in playoff games.

In the 2001 season, Popp took over from Rod Rust and replaced Don Matthews during the 2006 campaign. He stayed in the job to coach Montreal to an 8-10 record in 2007.