April 25th, 2024

Grey Cup champion Alouettes bring stability into 2024: ‘I wanted to keep that recipe’

By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on March 15, 2024.

Montreal Alouettes head coach Jason Maas, left, president Mark Weightman and GM Danny Maciocia, right, hold the Grey Cup at their end of season press conference Wednesday, November 29, 2023 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL – Danny Maciocia was flying home the day after his Montreal Alouettes won the Grey Cup when he leaned over to head coach Jason Maas and said: “Now what do we do?”

“I know we won a Grey Cup, but what are our next steps?” the Alouettes general manager thought at the time.

The organization’s two central figures got off the plane from Hamilton – where the Alouettes upset the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-24 on Nov. 19 in a dramatic championship victory – and instantly drove to a restaurant in Montreal’s east end to chart out a plan for the off-season.

Earlier into their three-hour discussion, it became abundantly clear that keeping the team together and having continuity into next season were priorities.

“We fell on a recipe that worked for us, and I wanted to keep that recipe,” Maciocia said Friday in the Alouettes’ locker room. “That’s the reason we got to work, because we wanted to keep our key players and that core intact.”

A little over a year ago, the Alouettes didn’t even know who their owner would be – or whether the team would play the 2023 season. Several key players packed their bags for other CFL cities in free agency.

Instability plagued the franchise in the years preceding last season’s triumph, with the CFL taking over operations twice in four years.

Now businessman Pierre Karl Peladeau has owned the team for a full calendar year, and the Alouettes seem as stable as ever with most of a championship team coming back to attempt a repeat.

In the weeks that followed Montreal’s championship parade Nov. 22, Maciocia signed defensive linemen Shawn Lemon and Mustafa Johnson, linebacker Darnell Sankey, quarterback Cody Fajardo and Canadian receiver Tyson Philpot to contract extensions, among several other moves. Maciocia and Maas also signed long-term extensions of their own.

“It’s about as much of 180 as you can get,” said Maas, who was hired as head coach before last season. “Totally different feel this year.”

“Stability is a great thing, I believe, in sports. Continuity after winning a championship is huge,” he added. “Having an owner for an entire calendar year, a president, a GM, everybody that’s worked together and had success together now. That to me is the biggest thing and it’s the way it should be, to be honest, that’s what you hope it to be.”

Not only are many of the key players returning. Montreal also brought back most of its coaching staff – including offensive co-ordinator/quarterback coach Anthony Calvillo, defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe and special-teams co-ordinator Byron Archambault – somewhat of a rarity in a league where coaches often get poached after successful seasons.

Calvillo won three Grey Cups as the Alouettes quarterback, and led the team to back-to-back titles in 2009-2010. He gave Maas credit for building a championship culture last year, and said consistency within the team is crucial to keeping that going.

“All the teams I’ve been on when we had success is when we had stability and continuity with the players and coaching staff,” Calvillo said. “You’re able to have a lot of success with that.

“So I’m glad we’re going in that trend, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Maciocia, a Montreal native, said the Als are still hungry for more even though winning a Grey Cup for his home-town brought a certain “closure” to Maciocia’s distinguished football career.

“It was special, it was unique, it’s something we’re going to cherish for the rest of our days that championship, but we’re not satisfied,” Maciocia said. “There’s still a lot to be done and we’re looking forward to doing it together.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2024.

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