MONTREAL — Former NFL coach Mike Sherman knows he has much to learn about the Canadian Football League.
That’s why all but two of the nine-man staff he hired to begin his tenure as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes have either played, coached or done both in the CFL.
“I realized it’s a different game,” Sherman said Wednesday as the coaching staff met with the media in the Alouettes locker room. “It’s a faster game. It’s more creative.
“So to have coaches who have experienced that creativity and the tempo of the game certainly was something I was looking for. The NFL game is different from this game. It just is.”
Along with Sherman, who coached the Green Bay Packers from 2000 to 2006 and was offensive co-ordinator for other NFL squads, the only coaches with no CFL experience are defensive line coach Bert Hill and Paul Dunn, the offensive line coach and run game co-ordinator.
Sherman, hired Dec. 20 to help turn around a team that went 3-15 last season, said he has been going over the idiosyncrasies of the 12-man game with his coaches and plans to spend time with a former CFL official to go over the rules.
But one of his first tasks is basic to any football team — finding a starting quarterback, a problem the Alouettes have been unable solve since Anthony Calvillo retired after the 2013 campaign.
With the departure of Darian Durant after only one season, the Alouettes have six quarterbacks on their roster, including Drew Willy, Matt Shiltz and Antonio Pipkin returning from last year. They signed former NFL pivot Josh Freeman as well as prospects Garrett Fugale and Nick Shafnisky.
“There is no leading candidate in my mind,” said Sherman. “I want to see them all throw and I want to see them all lead.
“In the CFL, on all the really good teams they have good leaders, not just good quarterbacks. So it’s going to be a wide open camp. I don’t wait too long to make a decision. Guys better come to camp ready to play because the decision isn’t going to be too, too late. We need to move forward to get ready for the season.”
Sherman kept on only two coaches from GM/coach Kavis Reed’s staff last season — Billy Parker with the defensive backs and Andre Bolduc for the running backs. Both are former Alouettes players.
He has Khalil Carter, the former Calgary Stampeders DB coach, as defensive co-ordinator and former CFL quarterback and coach Khari Jones as offensive co-ordinator. Carter will be mentored by long-time CFL defensive guru Rich Stubler as special adviser to the defensive co-ordinator.
The special teams co-ordinator is Mickey Donovan, formerly head coach at Concordia University. Ex-Edmonton Eskimo Jason Tucker is the receivers coach.
Carter and Donovan are first-time pro co-ordinators.
“Khalil played under Rich Stubler, who has tremendous experience in the CFL and his system,” said Sherman. “Khalil was part of that system. When he explained to me their defensive package, I thought he was an excellent teacher. He’s highly intelligent.
“Mickey is also intelligent and is a great teacher.”
He has high character. I think we’ll be a very good special teams team as we grow through the season. I don’t think it will be Day One, but as we go through the games we’ll get to where our special teams will be a force.”
Donovan, an American who played at Concordia in the early 2000s, jumped at the chance to join Alouettes.
“I’m coaching, I’m doing what I love to do,” he said. “I always loved coaching special teams, no matter where I went. I always wanted my hand in the pot of doing things with special teams.”
Carter was defensive backs coach in Calgary and had a hand in the signing of former Stampeders Joe Burnett and Tommie Campbell as free agents as part of a sweeping rebuild of the Alouettes defence. They also inked DBs Dominique Ellis from Hamilton and Mitchell White from Ottawa.
“We looked at tons of film to see what guys fit the system we want to have here and those guys fit the system,” said Carter. ”I really felt like Kavis and coach Sherman supported all of our ideas and what we wanted to bring to this team.
“When you’re 3-15, you have things you need to change and I think we addressed that in free agency.”
Carter played three seasons with Stubler as his defensive co-ordinator while with the Toronto Argonauts and coached under him in Calgary.
“He’s an adviser,” said Carter. “He’s going to help me with ideas that I have.
“You can liken it to a mentor. He’s here to help me make good decisions. Everywhere I’ve been with Stubler as a player and under him as a coach before, we’ve been very successful.”