O’Leary: Maciocia, Cecchini ushering in new era for Als
In his first day on the job, Danny Maciocia looked like he couldn’t have been any more comfortable.
The freshly-hired GM of the Montreal Alouettes called Monday a day that was 18 years in the making. Maciocia grew up in Montreal, a French-Italian kid that fell in love with the game watching Wally Buono and Peter Dalla Riva play for the Alouettes.
In 1996, Maciocia talked then-Als GM Jim Popp into an unpaid coaching role with the team. With his toes in the door, he went on to become the Als’ offensive coordinator by 2001. In 2002, he made the move west to Edmonton and became their head coach in 2005. The Esks won the Grey Cup that year and Maciocia became the director of football operations in 2007, staying with the team as its GM and head coach until 2010.
After a nine-year run as the head coach of the Montreal Carabins — that included a Vanier Cup win in 2014 — Maciocia got the call he’d dreamed of since he’d left town after the turn of the century.
“I’ve been waiting for this for 18 years. I’d like to think I’m battle-tested, I’ve experienced it at many different levels,” Maciocia told a room full of media on Monday, with the Alouettes’ blue and red backdrop behind him.
“It’s time for a different challenge and I’m up to that challenge.”
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It’s been a long, difficult journey for both parties involved, really. From the U de M campus, Maciocia has kept a keen eye on the state of the Alouettes. He watched them struggle through the post-Anthony Calvillo years and watched it come under league ownership last season. He was a voice from the periphery throughout last season, offering whatever help he could to the team that he grew up watching as the league tried to find it a suitable owner.
Through last season, he may have been as surprised as anyone else to see the Alouettes find the success that they did under head coach Khari Jones. He took control of the team six days before the start of the regular season after Mike Sherman was abruptly relieved of his duties. The Als had missed the playoffs the previous four years but under Jones, they went 10-8 and hosted the East Semi-Final at Molson Stadium.
Maciocia took the opportunity on Monday to give a full endorsement of his coach. Jones signed a three-year extension with the team before Sid Spiegel and Gary Stern assumed ownership and in turn, before Maciocia was hired as GM and Mario Cecchini was hired as the team’s president.
“I know what the perception is out there, that clearly you want to be aligned (where) the president hires the general manager and the general manager hires the head coach,” Maciocia said. “But when you take a look at what coach Jones had to deal with last year under tremendously difficult circumstances, I don’t see how you don’t give him a three-year deal. I don’t see how you don’t give him the opportunity to lead this football team moving forward.
“He was dealt a bad hand to be quite honest with you and for him to come out on top, I’m surprised he wasn’t named the coach of the year in the CFL. I think he’s worthy. I think we’re lucky to have him in Montreal.
“I’m extremely privileged to have the opportunity to work with him. I’ve known him since 2006, 2007. He’s come to Carabins games the last two years. We’ve had supper together and this all took place all before the month of May. I’m looking forward to it. If the roles had been reversed I don’t think I’d have done it any differently.”
It’s easy to say in January when so little has happened to shape the coming season (free agency, both the CFL draft and the global draft and training camp are all still in front of us), but there was a feeling of completeness at the press conference. Stern, the new owner, sat with Cecchini and Maciocia. Jones sat in the front row, laughing at Stern’s frequent reminders that he wants to win the Grey Cup this year.
After so many years of seeing the Alouettes suffer and with the team turning the corner on the field in 2019, it feels like the organization is at the start of a new, brighter chapter.
Maciocia didn’t want to join in on Stern’s bold promise of a Grey Cup or put a timestamp on any kind of guarantee. The promise he made on Monday was a simple one.
“I’ll never say we’re looking to get back into the Grey Cup in 2022 or 2023,” Maciocia said. “We want to be there this year. Is there work? Absolutely.
“Do we have some issues with the roster? I’m not going to lie to you, I’m going to be transparent. Yes, we do, but is there the willingness to clean it up and make the changes that we need to make to become a competitive team? Absolutely.
“That’s going to be our No. 1 objective, is to be competitive every single week. Once you’re competitive you give yourself a chance and that’s all you want in life, is a chance.”