Don’t Blame Kavis Reed for Montreal Mess

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HAMILTON, ON - November 5: Assistant coach Kavis Reed of the Montreal Alouettes on the sidelines during a CFL game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field on November 5, 2016 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Montreal defeated Hamilton 32-25. (Photo by John E. Sokolowski/Getty Images)

The Montreal Alouettes are a disaster, but it’s not all Kavis Reed’s fault. No one bats a thousand and neither does he, but the rookie General Manager hasn’t screwed this up all on his own.

Don’t Blame Kavis Reed for the Montreal Mess

Where It All Went Wrong

It really wasn’t so long ago the Alouettes were the toast of the town. They were a model franchise, winning back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010 with hall of fame quarterback Anthony Calvillo at the controls and head coach Marc Trestman grabbing attention from the NFL. Team president Larry Smith had successfully built up the team’s corporate base and fan support was strong enough to add an extra five thousand seats to McGill University’s Molson Stadium.

But a power struggle simmered beneath the surface. General Manager Jim Popp was mad at Smith. It might have had something to do Smith having stripped Popp of his head coaching title—and the lucrative salary that came with it. Or maybe it was the long delay before Smith offered Popp a contract extension during the Grey Cup years.

The stalemate got so bad that Popp even moved his family from Montreal back home to North Carolina. Late in the 2010 season as the team headed towards another championship, Popp got his extension and Smith announced he’s leaving the team. Popp had a clear vote of confidence from owner Bob Wetenhall. Surely the GM’s stellar track record for recruiting star talent would keep the team winning and everything else would take care of itself.

If only it were that simple.

Business Goes Downhill

With Smith gone, the team hired a Montreal Canadiens executive who seemed to think that the same local businesses who threw themselves at the Habs would also beat down the door of the Alouettes. They didn’t. The team’s corporate base eroded and the buzz for tickets all of a sudden wasn’t quite what it was before. The five thousand extra seats left plenty of supply available for a demand not quite ready to invest in an organization with this level of internal dysfunction.

In 2013, head coach Trestman left for the NFL’s Chicago Bears and owner Wetenhall chose a replacement himself rather than leaving it to the football people—his trusted confidante Larry Smith was in the Canadian senate by then and no longer available to act as a middle man between owner and football/business operations. The results were predictably disastrous. Dan Hawkins was hired as head coach with zero Canadian football experience and an ESPN-sized ego to boot. The team struggled on the field, Calvillo complained, Hawkins was fired, and Jim Popp was coaching again despite being clearly ill-suited for that role.

The team, like the organization, never regained itself after that. There were flashes of success like when Jeff Garcia showed up in town to help then-head coach Tom Higgins and then-quarterback Jonathan Crompton string together an incredible run of eight wins in their final ten games to rescue a season that had started 1-7. But they weren’t the same Alouettes after that.

Popp seemed to be dealing directly with the owner and the organization lacked a steady hand to guide its business. Mark Weightman did great work as team president but he never enjoyed the same respect former CFL commissioner Smith did when dealing with ownership. Owner Wetenhall no longer listened to a sober second thought when handling the affairs of his organization.

Season Becomes a Greasefire

The badly needed change finally came last fall when the team parted ways with Popp, the only general manager it had ever known from its reincarnation in 1996 until then. Two straight playoff misses and staff discontent were proof enough that the Alouettes had become stale. A recharge is expected in the form of respected university of Montreal and one-time Grey Cup winning head coach Danny Maciocia. But after taking a long hard look at the culture swirling around this organization, he took a pass and chose to stay in college.

When the dust settled, Weightman was out as team president and Andrew Wetenhall—the owner’s son—was firmly in charge. Kavis Reed went from special teams coach to the general manager’s chair (how does that even happen?) but he didn’t get to choose his own staff. He’s stuck with Jacques Chapdelaine as his head coach. Chapdelaine complained publicly about Reed releasing popular linebacker Bear Woods in training camp and the die is cast. This was not an organization in reboot. This was an organization still in turmoil.

Reed took a leap of faith in trading for Rider quarterback Darian Durant and his big salary. Chapdelaine rewarded management by micro-managing this newfound toy with the most conservative play calling in the league. Andrew Wetenhall woke up for long enough to fire both the head coach and defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe, whose unit was the lone bright spot in an otherwise cloudy season.

It’s a gong show and it’s been a gong show in Montreal for a while. It starts at the top and as general manager and now head coach, Reed will shoulder the burden of figuring out how to get Durant back on track. He is the face of this train wreck and will be the one figuring out how to limp this team into a very winnable eastern division playoffs.

Who to Blame

But Kavis Reed is not the guilty party here. He’s a loyal soldier and takes his marching orders from the top.

Blame it on the Wetenhalls. They’re in charge and they should know better.

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