MONTREAL — Former coach Marc Trestman always had a slogan for the season, but the one for new coach Tom Higgins for the 2014 campaign ought to be Better Late Than Never.
Nine days after the Alouettes announced the veteran Higgins as their new head coach, he finally met with the media in the team’s Olympic Stadium locker-room and introduced his coaching staff on Thursday.
The Alouettes are a couple of months behind the rest of the Canadian Football League in getting their staff settled, but at last it is in place.
Higgins named former CFL quarterback Rick Worman as offensive coordinator, former Edmonton and Calgary coach Kris Sweet as offensive line coach and ex-Toronto Argonauts coach Greg Quick as linebackers coach.
He also brought in two former Alouettes, Andre Bolduc and Anwar Stewart, as quality control coaches for the offence and defence respectively. Jean-Vincent Posy-Audette, who worked with Bolduc at the University of Sherbrooke, was named a defensive and special teams assistant.
The rest of the staff, including defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Noel Thorpe, had already been retained by general manager Jim Popp, who stepped in as head coach when Dan Hawkins was fired five games into the 2013 campaign.
They will have less than three months to prepare for the start of training camp.
It’s a challenge for Worman, a former offensive coordinator with the Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, to set up an offensive system and work out who will be the starting the quarterback.
With Anthony Calvillo retired, the club will need a new starter for the first time since 2000, with 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and the inexperienced Tanner Marsh as the leading candidates.
“To be honest, I haven’t spent a lot of time evaluating them yet,” said Worman, who has worked with CFL veterans pivots Ricky Ray and Khari Jones, among others. “I saw them a minor amount of time on (U.S. television).
“The biggest thing they have to be is consistent _ get rid of their mindset of following Anthony and just focus on what they do. There’s no magic formula. My job will be to match up what they do well for them to be successful.”
Popp has said Smith is the frontrunner, but Worman said the decision on the opening game starter will be made after camp and the team’s two pre-season games. They also have former Winnipeg quarterback Alex Brink in the mix.
“Everyone’s going to get lots of reps, so it’s not important at this time to say who is and who isn’t (the starter),” said Worman. “If that’s what Jim wanted to say, that’s fine, but it doesn’t matter to me.
“Neither is an established, proven quarterback in the CFL.”
Higgins also named himself as special teams coordinator, a job he did for nine years with Calgary. He will be aided by Posy-Audette and Bolduc.
“When you’re special teams, you get to coach the whole team,” said Higgins. “So there’s some merit to that.
“It’s so much a part of the fabric of the CFL because of the three downs. You need a solid foundation for your kicking, and you’re not giving lip service when the head coach is the guy that’s responsible.”
Alouettes owner Bob Wetenhall and his management team took their time after last season, when they finished third in the East Division and were beaten in the East Division semifinal, to decide whether to keep Popp in the dual role of GM and coach or to find a new coach.
Wetenhall finally decided to have Popp concentrate on what he’s best at – finding talent.
Now the new staff has to get to know their players in a hurry.
“To me it’s not about the time issue, it’s what they do from now to training camp,” said centre Luc Brodeur-Jourdain. “The good thing is we’ve been able to re-sign all our veterans and (thecoaches) can get feedback from them.
“It’s on them now to settle everything about training camps, playbooks and the first part of the season. And we have a challenge in Montreal that most teams don’t have. We have to move every day to get to practice facilities. That takes half an hour off of our 4.5 hours (daily working time limit). So we have to be sharper and more accurate in everything we do than any other team in the league.”
The Alouettes veteran offensive line will also have to get to know Sweet, who reportedly was unpopular with his players on previous CFL stops, although his line helped Calgary win a Grey Cup in 2008 and led Joffrey Reynolds to a rushing title.
“I heard he was pretty intense as an O-line coach, but the Montreal Alouettes O-line group has a lot of veterans,” said Brodeur-Jourdain. “We always took a lot of pride in being intense and very accurate in everything we do.
“I think he’ll come to realize we’re passionate about what we do, and even if stuff happens in a game, even if it gets intense, we’re all adults and we can deal with it.”
Returning from last season are quarterbacks coach Ryan Dinwiddie, receivers coach Erik Campbell, running backs coach Mark Speckman and defensive line coach Keith Willis.