Longtime CFL executive J.I. Albrecht dies at age 77

J.I. Albrecht, one of the Canadian Football League’s sharpest recruiters of playing and coaching talent, has died at the age of 77.

J.I. Albrecht, one of the Canadian Football League’s sharpest recruiters of playing and coaching talent, has died at the age of 77.

During a 50-year career in football, the St. James, N.Y., native brought in Marv Levy to coach the Montreal Alouettes in the 1970s and named slotback Michael (Pinball) Clemons as coach of the Toronto Argonauts in 2000.

He was the prime builder of an Alouettes team that won Grey Cups in 1970, 1974 and 1977, where he brought in linebacker Wally Buono, now coach and general manager of the B.C. Lions, and slotback Larry Smith, now the Alouettes president.

“He was a very good evaluator of talent,” said Smith, who Albrecht selected with the top pick in the 1972 CFL draft. “He looked at the character of the player as well as the talent.

“And when he liked you, he was very loyal. Maybe loyal to a fault with some players.”

Albrecht’s son Dean said his father died Tuesday in a Toronto nursing home. Albrecht suffered a stroke in 2002.

“He hasn’t been well for a couple of years,” said Dean Albrecht. “He didn’t have any giddy up, so it was difficult for him to do anything. And he was so active before.”

Albrecht had front-office stints with the Alouettes, Argonauts, Ottawa Rough Riders and expansion Shreveport Pirates and he also spent time in the NFL, the NCAA and Canadian university football.

In 1984, he led a group that hoped to put a CFL expansion team in Halifax called the Atlantic Schooners, but his main backer pulled out when government financing didn’t come through for a new stadium.

His greatest success was in Montreal, where he joined the Alouettes in 1970 as personnel director under GM Red O’Quinn and with legend Sam Etcheverry as head coach. Albrecht took over as GM for the 1972 and 1973 seasons.

Smith recalled how Albrecht brought in 17 rookies in 1972 who, as well as himself and Buono, included future stars such as Dickie Harris, Dan Yochum, Glen Weir and Junior Ah You. He also brought Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers to the CFL.

But disputes with coaches and management led to his being fired by the Alouettes and Levy took over as GM in 1974.

“As a scout, he was No. 1,” said Smith. “He aspired to be a GM, but that’s a different skill set.

“I don’t think he ever made that transition successfully. He was very opinionated. Once he got his mind on something, he went for it. But he was always fair to me.”

Buono said Albrecht first contacted him even before he joined the Alouettes and the two stayed in touch over the years.

“He was perceived at times as being a gruff, old-school football guy, but I guess that’s how it was in those days,” said Buono. “But as he got older you saw a different side of him.

“He was very proud of the players who had done well. He was one of those guys who, if he discovered you and signed you, he stayed close to you.”

After a season with the New England Patriots, Albrecht moved on to Toronto as GM in 1976, where he brought in stars like Anthony Davis and Wonderful Monds.

When Smith later became commissioner of the CFL, he set Albrecht up to work as a consultant with the Glieberman family, who owned the Rough Riders, in 1992 and 1993 and then became the Pirates’ vice-president of football operations in 1994.

During a second stint with the Argos in 2000, Albrecht named Clemons as the team’s head coach and he went on to make CFL history in 2004 when he became the first black head coach to win a Grey Cup.

The funeral is set for Friday in Toronto.

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