Noel Thorpe is returning to the Alouettes as defensive coordinator.Well, the Montreal Alouettes' vacancy at defensive coordinator sure didn't last long. Less than 24 hours after parting ways with Jeff Reinebold, the Alouettes have named his successor: Noel Thorpe. Thorpe's name didn't immediately come to mind for the position, as many CFL teams don't immediately consider coaches from the CIS ranks, but from this corner, he seems like a heck of a choice. He's certainly familiar with the Alouettes' organization and has had tremendous success at the university and international levels as well. Now, the question is if he can translate his prowess as a CIS defensive coordinator into success in the same position at the CFL level.
What Thorpe's most known for recently is what he accomplished with the Université de Montréal Carabins (which feature another CFL name, Danny Maciocia, as their head coach). Thorpe has spent the last two years with that team, but was only named defensive coordinator this year, and turned in a tremendous performance. Montreal went 8-1 in the 2012 regular season with their only loss coming against eventual Vanier Cup champions Laval, and the Carabins allowed just 11.8 points and 244.4 yards per game (both the best in the country).
Yes, things went south for Thorpe and the Carabins in the Quebec semifinals, where they were upset 42-24 by Sherbrooke. However, while the defence didn't play great in that game from a standpoint of points or yards allowed, much of that loss was thanks to an offence that couldn't move the ball, couldn't take advantage of the seven turnovers the defence forced and turned over the ball three times themselves. The loss certainly didn't diminish Thorpe's stature much, and there were rumblings he might land a CIS head coaching job this offseason. Instead, he has a coordinator-level position in the CFL, which is probably similar in terms of salary (that obviously depends on the teams involved) and carries greater upside; the chance of one day becoming a CFL head coach.
It's more than his 2012 season that makes Thorpe an intriguing addition for the Alouettes, though. For one thing, despite being only 41, he's spent almost two decades in the CIS and CFL ranks in some pretty significant roles. He's also extremely familiar with the Alouettes' organizational culture and with general manager Jim Popp in particular. After Thorpe got his start in CIS, working with the UBC Thunderbirds' defensive backs and special teams from 1996-2000 (including during their Vanier Cup championship season in 1997), Popp hired him for an Alouettes' front office job, then shifted him to special teams coordinator from 2002-2007. Thorpe also coached Montreal's defensive backs from 2003-2007 before heading to Edmonton as special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach from 2008-2010, with an assistant head coach title tacked on for those last two seasons.
Thorpe went back to CIS in 2011 with Montreal, and that obviously proved to be a strong decision. It also gave him time to serve as the head coach of the Canadian U-19 team that upset the powerhouse Americans to claim IFAF gold this summer, and that's certainly boosted his profile as well. Thorpe's stature has only been on the rise recently, so bringing him back to the Alouettes as defensive coordinator seems to make a lot of sense. The only question is if his defensive philosophies and schemes will work at the CFL level. We'll see how it works out, but Thorpe's mix of CIS success and CFL experience would seem to bode well for what he can do with the Alouettes.