It's not often you need a wide-angle lens at a press conference announcing a new head coach, but that was the case with the Montreal Alouettes' conference Tuesday officially announcing the appointment of former Boise State and Colorado coach Dan Hawkins. The Hawkins news was convincingly reported last Thursday, so the delay in officially announcing it seemed curious, but that became clearer with the massive table the Alouettes rolled out Tuesday; they weren't just announcing the Hawkins hire, but also the hires of a complete staff of coaches. Only two members of the staff (defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe and defensive assistant/football operations assistant Jean-Marc Edmé) were officially there before Hawkins, and Thorpe was only hired earlier this offseason. It's a full makeover in Montreal, and that massive table (which resembles a certain famous painting: Hawkins will be hoping that analogy doesn't continue) includes an interesting mix of assistants with CFL, NCAA and NFL backgrounds. Here are five of the most notable:
Mike Miller, assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach: The hire of Miller may say more than anything about the CFL's rising reputation as a destination for coaches, a reputation that's been greatly buttressed by former Alouettes' coach Marc Trestman landing the Chicago Bears' job (and bringing many CFL names along with him). Miller has a remarkable NFL reputation, as he's spent the last six years with the Arizona Cardinals, including the last two as offensive coordinator. Sure, the team's offence wasn't great the last two years, but that's not all on Miller (their inability to land a competent quarterback since Kurt Warner's retirement has arguably been the biggest factor in their recent struggles), and a NFL offensive coordinator leaving for a CFL coordinator's job is remarkable.
An NFL OC job is highly prestigious (for reference, 10 of the 36 NFL head coaching hires between 2005-2009 had been NFL offensive coordinators at one point, behind only NFL defensive coordinators (12) for the most common previous experience), and even if Miller hadn't been able to land a offensive coordinator's job for this coming season (Arizona just changed coaches from Ken Whisenhunt to Bruce Arians, creating a large staff turnover), it's highly likely he could have landed somewhere else in the NFL as a quarterbacks or receivers coach. To see him abandon that for a CFL assistant's position shows the league's come a long way in southern estimations: consider that at the start of last year, it was somewhat remarkable that George Cortez left a job as a NFL quarterbacks coach to take over as a CFL head coach. Miller's leaving a better NFL job for a less-prominent CFL one. That doesn't mean he'll necessarily succeed, as adapting to the CFL game can take time, but it's rare to see a CFL coordinator with such high-level south of the border experience.
Ray Rychleski, special teams coordinator: Rychleski's another guy with extremely high-level experience, as he served as the special teams coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts from 2009 to 2011 and previously held that position with significant NCAA schools like the University of South Carolina, the University of Maryland and Wake Forest University. The CFL game may be an adjustment for him, but his ability to work in both the NFL and the NCAA suggests he's adaptable.
Doug Berry, senior advisor to the head coach: Berry's a prominent CFL name, of course, thanks to his stint as a head coach in Winnipeg and his time as an assistant in Montreal and Saskatchewan. He's a great name to have on board, especially for a guy like Hawkins who will be adjusting to the CFL. Berry knows the league inside and out and should be able to help Hawkins and the other CFL newbies transition to Canadian football.
Mark Speckman, running backs coach: Speckman's most notable for his 14 seasons as the head coach of Division III Williamette University, where he posted a 82-59 record from 1998 to 2011. He recently was the head coach of the NAIA's Menlo College Oaks. Not a bad resume for a RB coach...
Ryan Dinwiddie, offensive assistant: Dinwiddie doesn't have the extensive coaching background of anyone else on this list, but he'll be highly familiar to CFL fans. He's arguably the most unusual starting quarterback in a Grey Cup in recent memory, as he got his first career CFL start for Winnipeg in the 2007 Grey Cup thanks to an injury to Kevin Glenn in the East Final. Of course, that didn't go well for Dinwiddie, who threw three interceptions (all to James Johnson!) in the Bombers' 23-19 loss to Saskatchewan, and his CFL career never really took off (he spent another year as a backup in Winnipeg, then spent two seasons as a Riders' backup). He might prove to be a solid coach, though, as many former backup quarterbacks have made that transition well (Marcus Brady and Jason Maas are two solid current examples, and Jarious Jackson's hoping to follow suit), and he has experience working with Hawkins; Dinwiddie was Hawkins' quarterback at Boise State from 2001 to 2003.
It's an impressive cast of characters Hawkins has surrounded himself with, and it certainly made for a striking image from his first press conference. The question's if it's going to work out better for him than the central figure in da Vinci's work...