MONTREAL — First it was Toronto, then Hamilton and now the Montreal Alouettes have hired a former National Football League coach.
Mike Sherman, who guided Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers to three division titles in the early 2000s, was named head coach of the Alouettes on Wednesday with a mandate to end the skid that saw the former East Division power finish last in the Canadian Football league at 3-15.
“I’ve been made aware of some of the problems we’ve had over the last couple of years but that doesn’t mean they have to continue,” 63-year-old Sherman said at a news conference at a downtown hotel. “We’re here to turn a page.
“We’re here to build, to put a football team on the field that you all can be proud of and that represents this city the way it should be represented. It’s going to take some work. It’s not going to happen immediately. If we’re all willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work, step by step, we will get there.”
Sherman took over from general manager Kavis Reed, who served as interim coach after firing Jacques Chapdelaine and defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe in September with the team at 3-8 and on a four-game losing streak. They went 0-7 under Reed, who announced at the end of the season he would not stay on as coach.
He kept his promise to name a new one by mid-December.
“The process yielded a candidate who was our initial target and the right man to help us turn around this football team,” said Reed, who interviewed at least 15 people for the job.
It appears NFL coaches are in vogue.
In February, the Argonauts hired former Montreal GM Jim Popp, who brought in ex-Alouettes and Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman. The Argos rode that to a Grey Cup.
The Tiger-Cats brought in former Atlanta Falcons coach June Jones as an assistant on Aug. 2, then made him head coach at the end of that month. The 0-8 Ticats went 6-4 the rest of the rest of the way and Jones was rewarded with a three-year contract.
But Reed said their success was not a factor in picking Sherman.
“Those two gentlemen you mentioned have done a tremendous job but there are also a tremendous number of coaches in this league that don’t have that background,” said Reed. “What we established were certain criteria we wanted to look at.
“It was the man, the resume, it was what he represented that was most important.”
He said Sherman met all the criteria. He is an experienced winner, with a 57-39 record in five years at Green Bay, who has demonstrated he can develop talent and manage a staff. He also showed he can turn a losing team into winners at Texas A&M from 2008-11.
Unlike Trestman, whose first move was to confirm Ricky Ray as Toronto’s starting quarterback, Sherman gave no guarantees to veteran pivot Darian Durant, who struggled in his first season in Montreal after 11 years in Saskatchewan. He said the job would be decided in camp.
“I don’t think we’re in a position to determine who the starting quarterback will be, and even after watching tape I’m not going to be in that position,” said Sherman. “We’re going to vet this thing out.
“Guys are going to compete and the best quarterback is going to be our starting quarterback. At this point, that’s up for grabs.”
Sherman was impressed by Reed and by owners Bob and Andrew Wetenhall, who approved the hiring. He liked the city on the two visits he made during the hiring process and the fact that it is a less-than five hour drive from the family home in Cape Cod. His 18-year-old daughter is looking to enrol at McGill.
But most importantly, he said his wife gave it her blessing. If not, he would not have accepted the job.
“I love the challenge that exists here, to be able to create something that no one has done recently,” he said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been in the Grey Cup.”
The Alouettes reached the Grey Cup final eight times, winning three, from 2000 to 2010, but went into decline when quarterback Anthony Calvillo retired after the 2013 campaign. They have since been through a succession of coaches and quarterbacks.
Sherman’s accent is on offence. He was offensive co-ordinator in Seattle (1999), Houston (2006-07) and Miami (20012-13).
Calvillo ended the season as offensive co-ordinator, but Sherman has yet to decide on his staff. He’s aware that it is a much different game in Canada and said he will hire some with CFL experience, but he also has an eye on some coaches in the U.S.
One thing he wants to see more of is passion.
“When I watch tape of last year’s team, we could have played with a heck of a lot more passion,” he said. “We’re playing for the Montreal Alouettes. We’re playing in a city that has great pride and history. That should elevate our game, not bring us down.”