Madani: Popp’s firing means Andrew Wetenhall now firmly in control of Alouettes

Editor’s Note: Arash Madani is a reporter and commentator for Rogers Sportsnet. He is a columnist for 3DownNation.

The ousting of the only general manager the Alouettes have had since their return to Montreal certainly shows there’s been a changing of the guard with the franchise.

And it has nothing to do with Jim Popp.

Dismissing Popp signalled the end of Bob Wetenhall having an iron grip on the running of the organization. While he remains the owner, it’s now clear his son, Andrew, fully has the power and is running affairs for an organization that had been a two-man show for the better part of the past 20 years.

Those who have been around the organization know how Bob Wetenhall has operated, and it’s centered on fierce loyalty to his guys. Which is how and why Anthony Calvillo was elevated to offensive coordinator as quickly as he was; how and why Popp was retained, even after each of his head coaching stints became one disaster after another.

It was about three years ago when Andrew Wetenhall, an investment banker, took more of a role with the Alouettes, becoming the franchise’s lead governor – essentially making ownership decisions at the league level. And thus began the gradual decline of Popp’s reign near the top of the team’s hierarchy.

Many believe Andrew had grown more and more weary of Popp at the helm of football operations – the first salvo fired in the winter of 2014 when Tom Higgins was hired as Alouettes head coach behind Popp’s back. But over the years, the elder Wetenhall was always there to defend and protect Popp, even as the Alouettes have now amassed the longest drought for a Grey Cup appearance in the CFL.

You keep hearing Popp is a great GM, but not a good coach, right? Well, his teams have won only one playoff game since Marc Trestman left the franchise at the end of the 2012 season.

By September of this year, it was clear that Popp’s power and influence had vanished. The team was a disaster, again, on the field. Montreal’s salary cap situation? About the same. In part, what made the Alouettes so good in the early 2000s was their ability to draft, and retain, better than any other franchise. But over the past five seasons, Popp’s drafts have been a catastrophe.

The Alouettes have hit big on only two first round picks that are still with the club: Philippe Gagnon in 2016 and fellow offensive lineman Jacob Ruby the year prior. Beyond that, their depth picks in drafts have been horrible. Only two others of significance are on the roster: Jeff Finley, a third round selection in 2014, who is a rotational defensive lineman. Ryan White, taken with the team’s last pick (44th) in 2012, was plucked from Bishop’s.

On top of that, Montreal dealt its first round pick in 2012 for kicker Sean Whyte, who they eventually cut for import Boris Bede, who was awful this year and lost his job. And 2017’s first rounder, the No. 3 overall pick, belongs to the BC Lions in the Vernon Adams Jr. trade.

Enter Andrew Wetenhall. He was the one who individually took aside almost every assistant coach and coordinator prior to Montreal’s last home game to offer some kind of re-assuring voice as to what lies ahead. Weeks prior, though, is where he really showed his influence.

Remember when Popp “stepped aside” as head coach before the team’s bye week in September? Nobody had picked Jacques Chapdelaine in the pool to be interim head coach. While Kavis Reed was doing his best to angle for the gig politically, Wetenhall went to Chapdelaine and gave him the keys to a rental. The message became clear: if Chapdelaine didn’t write things off, the car was his.

And it will be in 2017. It will be shocking if Chapdelaine does not have the interim title lifted and be named head coach of the team – regardless of who the general manager is. Not that it will be a surprise who the Wetenhall’s are targeting to succeed Popp as the boss of football operations. While nobody will likely acknowledge it publicly, you have to believe the Wetenhall’s approached Danny Maciocia this autumn about becoming the next Alouettes general manager. Andrew Wetenhall may be ruthless, but he is crafty and calculated, and Popp’s demise would not come without the framework of a succession plan in place.

Where the process goes now becomes interesting. Montreal will conduct some kind of “search,” likely interviewing former Als scout Brock Sunderland, presently the RedBlacks assistant general manager. They may reach out to someone with GM experience like Brendan Taman, the architect of Saskatchewan’s 2013 Grey Cup title team. And, out of respect for what he did for the Alouettes, they’ll probably have a chat with Marc Trestman – who has long maintained he wants nothing to do with personnel in the CFL.

This is a huge hire for the Alouettes. The franchise has sold out only one game since renovating Molson Stadium six years ago. They’ve become more and more irrelevant in the marketplace, their spot as the city’s No. 2 franchise usurped by the Montreal Impact soccer club. Going to a game atop the mountain was the hottest ticket not long ago, but now with the team in such disarray, the fan base has dwindled.

What Maciocia brings besides football is notoriety and business acumen. A Carabins football fundraising event brought 500 powerbrokers in the city under one roof for the function. The locker room just had a million dollar facelift. Maciocia is the son of a politician. He knows how to open doors in the places that are required.

And so, in the end, it will come back to Maciocia, and the question becomes just how much security – with salary and term – both Wetenhall’s are prepared to provide. Maciocia two years ago won a Vanier Cup with the Montreal Carabins. He has a rich deal to be the head coach at the university level, and effectively a lifetime contract as a staff employee at the school, which like most post-secondary institutions means his three daughters can enrol in their studies there tuition-free. It would take significant commas, and zeroes, on the paycheque to have Maciocia leave campus. It would take a long commitment, with assurances of patience from ownership, to turn around a dysfunctional Alouettes roster, absent of enough Canadian talent because of inept drafting. When push comes to shove with Maciocia, who will likely want a five-year contract, it will be Andrew Wetenhall in the middle of it all.

The winds of change have blown through Montreal. Popp has become a footnote, albeit a significant one, in Alouettes history. But if you didn’t know it before, it’s clear now: the franchise’s direction, from top to bottom, is being guided by a new sheriff in town. And that just happens to be a second generation Wetenhall at the controls.

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Arash Madani

Arash Madani

Arash Madani is a reporter for Sportsnet. He has staffed 11 Grey Cups & does play-by-play for CIS Football. His dream: the Gaiters playing for a Vanier.
Arash Madani
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Arash Madani
About Arash Madani (15 Articles)
Arash Madani is a reporter for Sportsnet. He has staffed 11 Grey Cups & does play-by-play for CIS Football. His dream: the Gaiters playing for a Vanier.
Contact: Website

19 Comments on Madani: Popp’s firing means Andrew Wetenhall now firmly in control of Alouettes

  1. I hope the Als get things right soon.
    It just doesn’t seem right to have them toiling at the bottom of the east.
    Argos/Alouettes games used to mean something. Not anymore. Fault is with both clubs.

  2. Maciocia and Chapdelaine, nothing personal at all, but not sure why we keep on recycling coaches/GMs that were dismissed at other organizations. If they didn’t make it in BC or Edmonton, why would they make Montreal a better product? The same thing goes for QB’s. If Willy couldn’t cut it in Winnipeg, why would Toronto take him as a starter? It feels like there’s no fresh blood or ideas… this does not a good football team make.

  3. Chapdelaine has served his time with other teams and is ready for a HC job. It may as well be Montreal. From what I have seen since he was appointed as interim coach there, he looks comfortable in the job. The team is showing some signs of life again with Adams as QB. Good luck to ’em. The CFL needs a competitive team in Montreal. It’s time now to find a new GM for the Blue team to set a new course after this disastrous season. The CFL just cannot continue to have a floundering team in the most important market in the country.
    Then there is our team. Still lots of work needed…even if all of our injured players return next season. We need a strong offensive co-ordinator. Austin can’t do it all.
    All seemed well in the CFL a couple of seasons ago. Since then, things have changed dramatically in the East. Let’s hope all this changes for the better very soon. One more thing (pay attention TSN)…it’s time CFL games were streamed! Cable is losing too many customers and will eventually mean less money for the CFL.

  4. Good story. I still can’t believe that Maciocia is the frontrunner after he ran the eskimos into the ground years back

    • Marc Lebut // November 8, 2016 at 2:42 pm //

      Totally agree.

      Maciocia as GM is a forecasted disaster. He’s local media,s favourite, but he has no contacts, no clue to do the job at CFl level. Besides, bring Maciocia in and you can see Chpadelaine moving back to BC as HC, and Wally back to GM job. When Ricky Ray asked him to choose between Chapdelaine and him, Maciocia chose Ray. I can’t see Chapdelaine work with Maciocia again.

      I’ll tell you this: if Maciocia is hired as GM, won’t buy season tickets for 2017. No way! This team is too wounded to afford more gong show.

      I wish Brock Sunderland would be back in Montréal. This is the kind of guy we need. Young, hard worker, good contacts both sides of the border and he knows what scouting is. Would he leave Ottawa to be our GM is another story, but I hope things unfold this way.

  5. Tom Higgins…
    Is who they should be contacting.
    With the head-case Popp now “finally” gone.
    And lets face it…Popp should have been shown the door several years ago.
    Tom “might” think about returning.

    • I have to disagree. I want Higgins to replace Glen Johnson as Director of Officials so he can sort out THAT mess…

  6. Going into season a few knew that Popp almost was forced to coach. As the Als were paying 2 Coaches to not be there. Finished Hawkins this summer and still paying Higgins…plus Drew basically gave Popp ultimatum this season,”you coach and you win or you’re gone”. When he was removed from sideline those in the know knew it s was coming to an end! The time away was for a mental adjustment to come to grips that his power and reign were over Drew won. Drew has been ascending into the Boss…but the hiring and firing of Higgins was the straw the broke the relationship! Popp felt betrayed(plus his history with Matthews, Matthews and Higgins don’t like each other) and was awarded his final coaching decision…firing Higgins. That would be the last decision Bob Wetenhall would grant Popp! If you were paying attention you may have noticed that personnel decisions were stripped and some how salary struggles and numbers were released about 2 months ago.
    Now job wise…he was Bad as a Coach! His judgement with personnel was questionable at best. Had quality Canadians that he released. But this one transaction will make my point clear…2014 Stadford 52k salary was traded for Fred Stamps 170k salary…then come back in 2015 resign Stadford in FA for $140 while his market value was maybe half that and Popp had stated b4 that you can’t be successful with both Stadford and cousin Carter together…bad mix is what Popp said! But he over paid them both…only to have what he already knew come to fruition! This isn’t the only questionable personnel decision, it wasn’t because MTL didn’t have the quality Canadian talent…Popp decided to get rid of the defensive talent to over pay the offensive talent. All said…it was just time. Drew has confidently come of Age and Popp was getting stale.

  7. “One more thing (pay attention TSN)…it’s time CFL games were streamed!”
    Agree 100%. I would love to be able to buy a package to watch the CFL games online/on roku etc.
    I currently have to go to a bar and wrestle the remote away from a barkeep and grumpy NFL fans.

  8. AS a long time Edmonton Esks fan, I offer this sage piece of advice to the Alouettes organization:

    Run far,far away from Danny Maciocia. RUN… and never look back.

  9. Very interesting article, Arash.

    It’s very true that business considerations are as much a part of the decision as on-field issues.

    The Alouettes are in a very competitive situation now with the Montreal Impact soccer team growing in stature. They’ll likely fill the Big O on November 22 – 60,000 – for their eastern conference final game against Toronto FC.

    That’s a huge image booster. The Als need to grow their local business connections to bolster commercial support for the team.

    You mentioned that they have only sold out one game in six seasons. I wonder if they have ever turned a profit in that time? They don’t report doing so and their former player and ex-CFL commissioner Larry Smith said it’s unlikely that Robert Wettenhall would ever recoup the money he’s lost so far.

    Here’s hoping they get it right in this decision.

  10. Solara2000 // November 8, 2016 at 2:11 pm //

    An interesting article, but what is meant by the comment “…Trestman has made it clear that he wants nothing to do with CFL personnel.”

    Some clarification please – personnel can encompass players, coaches, administration Etc.

    Thank you

    • Marc Lebut // November 8, 2016 at 2:56 pm //

      When Trestman was here, he took no part at player’s hiring and contracts dealing, neither as to scouting. He only took care of assessing on the field.

      Trestman is an X and O’s guy and I don’t see him as a GM at all. Unlike Chris Jones, he doesn’t look for players.

  11. The Al’s need to convince Danny Barret to leave the Dolphins coaching staff and run the Als.

  12. Not sure this is going to work. I was enjoying your article very much, when I cam upon THIS phrase:”The Alouettes have hit big on only two first round picks that are still with the club: Philippe Gagnon in 2016 and fellow offensive lineman Jacob Ruby the year prior.”
    Now Gagnon was a rookie draft pick…and so can be excused for particpating on the WORST Alouettes O-line in history. But RUBY was a disaster…and by NO MEANS could be qualified as a “big hit”. This video is a compilation of Ruby’s incompetence in ONE half. I have promised my readers a COMPLETE compilation of Ruby’s “mistakes”..,.assuming I can find the time to extricate them from this hellish season.
    [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4_ESnGEy6s&w=681&h=411%5D

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