(Montreal) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This is a bit of the message of resilience that Montreal Alouettes head coach Jason Maas wanted to deliver on Monday, almost a month after the absurd season at the end of which his men emerged as champions of the Gray Cup.
“It’s hard to believe that I’m here today, from Nashville, after my hiring, the situation with the Alouettes’ owners, the situation with the free agents, the exodus of some of them and everything the rest,” Maas first mentioned by videoconference.
“It’s amazing how things can change in a year. This is what allows you to stay focused, to keep both feet on the ground. It’s good to know that the tide can turn quickly, especially when you’re working hard. So yes, through all this uncertainty, a certainty has emerged,” added Maas, who spoke with members of the media at the CFL winter meetings currently taking place in Nashville, Tennessee, at the same time. time as the American Football Coaches Association Convention.
This certainty is knowing that by ensuring a certain continuity within the organization, and by working hard on a daily basis, then everything becomes possible.
Remember last winter? The Alouettes had to let star wide winger Eugene Lewis go because he wanted to break the bank and find a new starting quarterback after Trevor Harris decided to join the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who was also taking advantage of his autonomy .
Alouettes general manager Danny Maciocia then opted for neglected players, left behind, such as quarterback Cody Fajardo.
“Our recruiting department has done an amazing job. You know, in this league, when star players decide to move, then you have to believe that you will be able to replace them. And that’s what we’ve done. We had plan A, B and C. Plan A failed, so we moved to plan B, then plan C. When you have such good communication with Danny (Maciocia) as well as everyone else in the direction, then it becomes easy to identify our needs and respond to them. »
Maas also praised Maciocia’s work after he managed to convince defensive end Shawn Lemon and linebacker Darnell Sankey – two players who played key roles in the Gray Cup victory – to stay with the team next season.
“It is very difficult to keep a team intact in the CFL due to salary constraints, especially when you are successful (as was the case last season). Some guys are going to want to test their worth on the market, so it was even more important for us to have guys like them (Lemon and Sankey) back with us next year, especially to ensure some continuity “, explained Maas, recalling that the team had up to 77 members in its squad last season.
However, one should not ask Maas if the Alouettes will be able to successfully defend their title in 2024, which would then be a first since the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The 48-year-old head coach has little use for expectations. towards his team.
“Expectations are always high, especially from our fans. But it’s like that everywhere. Internally, however, we need to be more humble; I never saw anyone say we were going to win the Gray Cup on the first day of training camp. It can be a motivator, but I don’t like using it,” he said.
“We are focused on ourselves and our daily tasks at hand, so we don’t worry about expectations. This approach worked last year, and we want to continue doing it this season. The players have to believe in themselves, they have to work hard every day, and the day that that (the message) no longer gets through, then we will no longer be the reigning champions,” added Maas.
Despite winning the eighth championship in Alouettes history, Maas is very aware that certain aspects need to be improved within his team.
So, even though most of the Alouettes’ coaching staff and core players will be back next season, Maas has opted for a new approach to remedy the ground game’s problems.
In this sense, just before the holiday season, the Birds announced that Dave Jackson will be the new running backs coach, replacing Tyrell Sutton.
“It’s not so much a decision against Tyrell, but rather because Dave has played many positions in this league and he has a lot of experience,” Maas said. He led on defense, offense, and special teams. He is a good teacher. He did a good job last year with our fullbacks, our tight ends and to a certain extent with our running backs, especially at quarterback protection. »
Maas and Jackson, however, may have to deal with a new group of running backs next season, since everyone who is with the team could become free agents this winter. The head coach, however, indicated that the Alouettes were still in an analysis process.
“We still haven’t made a decision on this. We have identified some guys, but they will be tough decisions to make. It will take time, but we have it since the free agent market will only open in a few weeks. These are discussions that are still ongoing,” he limited himself to saying.
Maciocia will in turn meet members of the media on Tuesday, as part of the CFL winter meetings.