MONTREAL — The Montreal Alouettes hope a mid-season coaching change will give them the jolt they need to get back in the CFL East Division playoff race.
General manager Kavis Reed will be running the show from the sidelines when the Alouettes play host to the Ottawa Redblacks on Sunday afternoon. Reed took over as coach after firing Jacques Chapdelaine and defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe on Wednesday.
“I hope it’s something in which we can find a way to build some strength and unity because we’re all we’ve got right now — we have to lean on each other,” Alouettes linebacker Kyries Hebert said. “We’re going to have to play hard, fast and physical.
“It can’t be based on Xs and Os because we won’t be able to put in an entire defence or any complicated things within a matter of days. But we’re going to show up and be ready to go.”
A mid-season change worked for Hamilton, who were 0-8 when Kent Austin stepped aside and named June Jones as coach. Since then, the Tiger-Cats have won two in a row, including a 26-22 win in Ottawa last week.
The results tightened the weak East standings such that Ottawa leads with only nine points, one more than Toronto, three more than Montreal and five more than Hamilton. Only the top two are sure to make the playoffs, but the division remains wide open.
The loss to Hamilton not only ended the Redblacks three-game winning run, but also cost them starting quarterback Trevor Harris, who left in the third quarter with a separated shoulder in his (right) throwing arm.
But Ottawa has a quality backup in 11-year veteran Drew Tate, who completed eight passes for 114 yards and a touchdown as the Redblacks mounted a second-half comeback attempt.
Montreal was in disarray when the coaching change was made. They have lost four games in a row — three of them blowouts including a 32-4 loss to Ottawa two weeks ago and a 41-18 drubbing in B.C. last week.
Quarterbacks coach Anthony Calvillo was handed play-calling duties on offence while defensive line coach Greg Quick will do the same with the defence. They had only three practices to start implementing changes.
“It’s out of our hands,” quarterback Darian Durant said of the moves. “We have to make do with what we’re given.
“We have to do the best we can for AC and hope that we can get this thing turned around. First of all we have to clean up the little things. It starts with penalties, with not missing assignments. We have to be a smarter team.”
The Alouettes started the season 2-2. Even the games they lost were close until the train suddenly went off the rails.
Neither Reed nor the players would go into detail on what went wrong under Chapdelaine and Thorpe, but they know what needs to be improved.
Durant said it was “the defence getting their plays in a bit sooner, us getting our plays in sooner, and that’ll give guys a chance to think and process information and that will lead to us being a smarter team.”
Firing Thorpe was a surprise because defence has been the team’s only strong area in recent years. But Reed said they had been only “just OK” this season.
“On defence, it’s important to play fast and play with anticipation versus reacting,” said Reed. “That’s something I felt our team was doing, was reacting to certain situations.
“We want them to be in anticipation mode and that means simplification.”
The Alouettes have already lost twice to Ottawa, so the Redblacks will have taken the season series between them regardless of the outcome. But Montreal has not given up on making the playoffs for the first time in three years.
“It’s time to move forward,” said Durant. “We still have a chance to make a run at it, taking it one game at a time.”