Alouettes hire Higgins as head coach, won Grey cup with Edmonton in 2003
Monday, Feb 24, 2014 04:00 am
MONTREAL - For a second year in a row, the Montreal Alouettes will start the CFL season with a new head coach.
Alouettes owner Bob Wetenhall announced Monday that Tom Higgins will be the club's new head coach.
The former Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders bench boss replaces general manager Jim Popp, who took over on Aug. 1 when the inexperienced Dan Hawkins was fired only five games into the 2013 season.
Wetenhall made it clear in a statement that he did not want Popp, who is considered one of the CFL's best GMs but has a career 16-20 record as a coach, to continue in both jobs.
"As I've expressed to the media in recent weeks, I wanted to continue with the formula which has brought us the success we've enjoyed these past 17 years — having a full-time head coach and a full-time general manager to fill each of these positions," said Wetenhall.
"The criteria we established was to find an individual familiar with the CFL; someone with success in that position and a background as a position coach. In addition, we sought an individual with a record for moulding and delivering championship teams.
"In Tom's seven years as a head coach he won three division championships along with a Grey Cup, and twice earned recognition as the CFL's coach of the year. His head coaching record of 72-53-1 speaks for itself. We welcome Tom to the Alouettes family."
Popp had made no secret of wanting to continue coaching, but Wetenhall put out a statement recently saying candidates would be interviewed.
A year ago, the Alouettes waited until Feb. 19 to name Hawkins, a former U.S. university coach with no experience of the Canadian game. He was 2-3 when he was fired with the team in disarray.
Popp, the Alouettes' GM since they returned to Montreal in 1996, took over as coach for the third time in his career and went 6-7.
It marked only the second time since 1996 the team had a losing record, matching the 8-10 mark Popp put up in his only full season as head coach in 2007. It hurt that starting quarterback Anthony Calvillo was lost for the season in August to a concussion.
This time, the team waited five days longer to name a new coach and came up with Higgins, who stepped down in December after five years as the CFL's director of officiating.
Higgins did not even get introduced at a press conference. The club said "time constraints and personal obligations" prevented bringing him to Montreal for the announcement, but that he will talk to the media Tuesday on a conference call.
He takes over a team that will not have CFL all-time passing leader Calvillo as its starter for the first time since 2000.
Instead, 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and young prospect Tanner Marsh are pegged to replace the retired future Hall of Famer.
Higgins, who will turn 60 on July 13, led the Eskimos to 13-5 records twice and won a Grey Cup in 2003 in his four years with the club. He had a 28-25 record in three seasons in Calgary from 2005 to 2007.
"Tom has worked with and tutored many of the CFL's finest quarterbacks — Doug Flutie, Henry Burris and Ricky Ray, to mention a few," said team president Mark Weightman. "His expertise will be invaluable in the development of Troy Smith and Tanner Marsh."
Higgins has spent 23 years in various CFL jobs, including a stint as GM in Edmonton.
A native of Woodbridge, N.J., and a former linebacker and defensive tackle, Higgins played for Calgary and Saskatchewan in the 1970s.
Popp replaced Rod Rust as coach at the end of the 2001 season, but gave way for Don Matthews the following season. He stepped in again when Matthews left for health reasons in 2006.
Marc Trestman, now coach of the Chicago Bears, coached the club from 2008-2012, winning two Grey Cups.