While most CFL teams have largely sorted out their front office and coaching staff positions by this point in the offseason, the Montreal Alouettes may still have to find a new head coach, general manager or both. Unlike the majority of offseason changes with head coaches and general managers, making moves here wouldn’t be the organization’s choice, and they’d be thanks to success rather than failure; the NFL’s taking notice of the impressive work general manager Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman have done in Montreal, and both could be in line for lucrative gigs south of the border. Popp is set to interview with the Carolina Panthers, while Trestman has interviewed with the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns. While it’s still far from a sure thing that either will receive a firm NFL offer, losing one or both could be a substantial blow to the Alouettes, especially when you consider that it’s already quite a ways into the offseason.
Popp’s record in Montreal is nothing short of amazing. He’s been with the organization since its time in Baltimore and has found plenty of incredible talent over that time, a key reason why the Alouettes have been an East Division powerhouse for the last decade-plus. Some of his players have gone on to NFL success, too, including the Bengals’ Andrew Hawkins at the moment, so that could bode well for southern evaluations of his talent. The Carolina job is also an intriguing one that he may well receive significant consideration for; Popp’s from the area and has plenty of connections in local football circles, and Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson is being advised by former Giants’ general manager Ernie Accorsi, a long-time fan of Popp’s.
Popp’s received NFL general manager buzz before that hasn’t come to anything (last year with Indianapolis in particular), so this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s gone, but his departure would leave the team with a substantial hole. Oddly enough, though, despite everything Popp has meant to the franchise over the last couple of decades, he may prove to be the easier of the Als’ top two to replace. Assistant general manager Marcel Desjardins has already received plenty of buzz as a candidate for a general manager’s job elsewhere, and is a strong candidate for the new Ottawa job; if Popp leaves, he’d be a logical in-house replacement, as pointed out by Yahoo! Sports Quebec's Charles-Andre Marchand (French article). Popp would leave massive shoes to fill, though.
Trestman’s tenure with the Alouettes isn’t as long, but it’s seen plenty of success, including the back-to-back Grey Cups the team claimed in 2009 and 2010 (the first time any CFL franchise accomplished that since Don Matthews’ Argonauts in 1996 and 1996). He’s turned the team into a perennial contender and helped get the most out of veteran quarterback and pro football career passing leader Anthony Calvillo, who’s had some of his best years in Trestman’s offensive system. Trestman also has a remarkable NFL and NCAA history of developing quarterbacks such as Bernie Kosar, Rich Gannon and rising star Russell Wilson, and that’s probably much more important to his chances of landing a NFL job than what he’s done in Canada. NFL teams are primarily concerned about south-of-the-border success. Still, his accomplishments with Montreal are certainly evidence that he can be a great head coach. However, as with Popp, he's received buzz before that hasn't come to anything. Trestman really wouldn’t be easy to replace, though; the Alouettes have new coordinators on offence and defence this year, neither of who would seem like a logical candidate to step into the head job right away. Montreal would probably have to look outside the organization for a replacement, and they’d be doing so rather later in the game.
Again, Alouettes’ fans shouldn’t panic yet. We’ve seen these rumours many times before about Trestman and Popp, and none of it has led to anything yet. They're also just two of the many candidates for each of these positions. While they’d certainly be qualified for NFL jobs (more so than any other CFL coaches or executives, from this corner), the NFL’s a very tradition-bound league, and teams there tend to fill their vacancies with traditional candidates from within the NFL ranks. (They’ll occasionally go to the NCAA, which appears to be outside-the-box enough: the CFL to NFL or NCAA coaching pipeline, which worked spectacularly with such coaches as Marv Levy, Bud Grant and Mike Riley, hasn’t really been active over the last while.) The guys with CFL backgrounds that have found NFL success lately, like Atlanta Falcons’ general manager Thomas Dimitroff, left for lower-level NFL positions earlier in their career and worked their way up, and it isn’t certain that Popp or Trestman would want to do that at this point in their careers. Still, the NFL interest in both of these guys is real and it is significant. It may not lead to anything, but losing either Popp or Trestman to the NFL could be a major blow for the Alouettes, and losing both at once would seem particularly devastating.