(Update, January 28: Desjardins is expected to be announced as the Ottawa GM Wednesday, according to Sportsnet's Arash Madani, The Ottawa Sun's Tim Baines and The Ottawa Citizen's Don Campbell. Read on for our take on his hire from when it first came out on Jan. 21.)
After a lengthy search that produced some unexpected candidates, Ottawa's as-yet-unnamed expansion CFL team has reportedly hired the general manager most initially predicted they'd land. According to TSN (and the Ottawa Citizen, and the Montreal Gazette), it looks like Jeff Hunt's Ottawa group has settled on Montreal assistant general manager Marcel Desjardins as the man to put their team together for the anticipated 2014 return. Desjardins' work will start well before then, though, as the Ottawa team will be able to select up to four NCAA underclassmen in this year's Canadian draft (likely in April or May) and will have to start preparing for the eventual expansion draft next December. Desjardins has a strong resume and should be well-suited for the job, which is why he was the name many figured would eventually land it. However, his departure leaves yet another void for the Alouettes to fill.
Desjardins has an impressive CFL background, and he's filled a variety of roles over the years. He worked with Montreal from 1999-2006, then left to take a job as general manager job in Hamilton from 2006 to 2007 before returning to the Alouettes as assistant general manager, a role he's held since then. He's certainly played a significant role in the construction of Montreal's dynasty, and he knows what it's like to serve as a CFL general manager thanks to his stint in Hamilton. That didn't go all that well, certainly, but that was an era of turmoil for the Tiger-Cats, who had three coaches (Greg Marshall, Ron Lancaster and Charlie Taafe) in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, and many of the problems there weren't Desjardins' fault. His overall resume is stellar, and that's the chief reason he's been seen as the leading candidate for this job for the last several months.
The Ottawa job isn't going to be an easy one, though. While the expansion draft should be much more favourable to them this time around (teams can protect less players than we saw in the last expansion draft, which should help the new team grab better talent, especially in terms of quarterbacks and Canadians), it still isn't going to be a cakewalk. Every team can protect their top quarterback, so Ottawa will have to start with someone who was a backup somewhere else (unless they swing a trade or go with a CFL rookie), and they won't be able to grab top-end talent at most positions. It's going to take extensive scouting and analysis before December to figure out who to target, and that's why it's smart to get a general manager in place now (in addition to current scout Rick Worman); this hire should allow Ottawa to start filling out their personnel department before then, prepare for this year's Canadian draft and get some top future talent there, and generally put together a plan of attack. It won't be simple for the new team to put together a decent CFL roster, but having a general manager in place this early should certainly help.
Desjardins' departure does leave the Alouettes with another hole, though. They lost head coach Marc Trestman to the NFL's Chicago Bears this offseason, and special teams coordinator/assistant head coach Andy Bischoff went with him. It looks like general manager Jim Popp's likely to stay in Montreal despite NFL interest, as the southern teams eyeing him eventually went with different candidates, but Desjardins has done a solid job as Popp's right-hand man over most of the last decade, and he won't be simple to replace. Add another tally to the list of new faces the Alouettes will have to bring in. The Desjardins news should be a positive for Ottawa fans, but it presents yet another challenge for Montreal in what's been an offseason full of them.