Mon Nov 08 04:02pm EST
On the surface, there isn't anything particularly unusual about Montreal Alouettes' president Larry Smith deciding to step down as of December 31. Smith (pictured at this morning's press conference, right) has spent most of his life involved with the CFL, from the nine seasons he suited up for Montreal as a running back from 1972 to 1980 to his five years as the league's commissioner in the 1990s to his time as Alouettes' president from 1997-2001 and again from 2004 until now. Even his son got into the family business; Brad had a successful CIS career at Queen's University and stints with the Alouettes and Argonauts before winding up with the Eskimos. Plenty of people decide to move on after that much time with an organization, and all indications are that Larry Smith's departure is an amicable one.
Everyone needs a change eventually, and Smith certainly has the talent to be successful in whatever field he winds up in; in addition to his success as league commissioner and his time as publisher of The Gazette, he's also presided over the dramatic financial turnaround of the Alouettes and their critical move to Molson Stadium in 1997 (oddly enough, initially thanks to a U2 concert). Smith had the vision to realize fans embraced football at Molson Stadium in a way they never did at the "Big Owe" and was crucial in moving the team there permanently; that alone would give him much of the credit for saving the CFL in Montreal, but he's also been a big part of other crucial moves such as the renovations to and expansion of Molson Stadium earlier this year. Smith's accomplished a lot in his time with the Alouettes, and it's understandable that he might now want to seek out new challenges. Here's what he had to say at a press conference this morning:
"I set 2010 as a checkpoint date regarding my career," Smith said. "After reviewing our situation with the successful completion of the Phase II renovations at Percival Molson Stadium, our 100 plus consecutive sell-outs, our on field success led by Jim Popp and Marc Trestman as well as our significant community involvement, I felt it was time for change, for the Club and for myself personally."
From an off-field perspective, this probably won't affect the Alouettes too much. Most of their crucial business moves have already been made, particularly the Molson Stadium renovation, and all indications are that they're doing reasonably well financially as well as on the field. Whoever the new president winds up being will likely inherit a pretty good situation from a bottom-line perspective. However, the timing of this decision could mean that it potentially carries on-field implications for Montreal.
It's worth noting that Smith was prominently quoted in stories about the Alouettes' decision to sign head coach Marc Trestman to a contract extension through 2012 last fall, along with general manager Jim Popp and owner Robert Wetenhall. All three of those men obviously have connections to Trestman, but the team is now planning to bring in a new president in the new year (with Alouettes chairman Paul Harris filling the job until then). It's highly unlikely that a new president would want to get rid of Trestman considering his incredible success over the years, and he still has strong links to the organization, but Smith's departure means one of the key organization members who was there for both Trestman's initial hiring and extension is now gone.
That alone may also not mean anything, but it's also worth noting that the rumours that Trestman (pictured hosting the Grey Cup last year, right) might head south to take a job with the NCAA's University of Minnesota Golden Gophers haven't died away. There are still a lot of things that would have to fall into place for that to happen, and it appears for the moment that the Gophers are going for bigger names, but the likes of Chris Petersen, Jim Harbaugh and Gary Patterson seem very unlikely to walk through that door. Phil Fulmer initially professed interest, but quickly stepped back, and Trestman continues to be prominently listed in articles evaluating the search. That's logical, considering his playing career at the university and his coaching success at the NCAA, CFL and NFL levels.
It's also notable that one very high-profile candidate, Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, may be less likely than ever to go to the Gophers considering the Vikings' own struggles and the rumours that head coach Brad Childress may soon be fired. Frazier would certainly be the most natural candidate as an interim head coach there and would have a good shot at landing the head coaching job, so it would seem doubtful that he'd abandon that opportunity for the college ranks. Of the top names that have come out so far apart from Trestman, that mostly leaves former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, and he's far from a slam dunk; his unconventional nature and controversial exit from the Red Raiders could work against him, and his particular brand of pass-heavy offence might be more difficult to execute in Minnesota.
There's still an excellent chance that the Gophers will decide on someone other than Trestman, and there's a solid chance that Trestman would stick with Montreal even if Minnesota did offer him the job (and likely a chance to triple his salary). It definitely isn't certain that Smith's departure would even enter into Trestman's decision either. However, the Trestman-to-Minnesota storyline isn't going to die until the Gophers choose a new coach, and Smith's departure removes one possible connection to the Alouettes that might have weighed into Trestman's decision. That probably doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it's worth keeping an eye on.