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Last week, our owner Gary Stern assured Montrealers that he would find the best candidates for the President and General Manager positions, and fast. Mission accomplished. Our organization is now equipped with two leaders who understand the Quebec identity and have proven their worth in our market, all the while building strong ties across the country as well as South of the border: Mario Cecchini, President, and Danny Maciocia, General Manager.
“I promised I would hire good guys and I think we can all say we now have the best,” declared Gary to his employees after Monday morning’s press conference.
Mario and Danny say they’re ready. Ready to take on this great challenge that is to continue leading the organization on an upward slope together. And especially, ready to fulfill a dream they both had been coveting for a very long time.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for 18 years,” Danny admitted in front of a full house.
*Full house like the stadium will be in 2020, thanks to you, right?*
“This is happening at the right time. In Edmonton, I was still a coach, I wasn’t quite a General Manager yet. I learned a lot from that experience. In 2016, I don’t think I would have been ready either. Now, at 52 years old, I’ve reached a new level. I want to bring the Grey Cup back in my city.”
By landing his dream job, Danny says goodbye to the Université de Montréal Carabins, a team he helped grow immensely in the past nine years and with whom he won the Vanier Cup in 2014, confident that he did everything in his power to leave the organization in better shape than it was when he inherited it. Evolving from Head Coach to General Manager isn’t particularly unusual in the CFL – Wally Buono, for example, had a successful transition -, but it inevitably comes with the following question, “Can the GM be only that, the GM?” With an influential and well-respected coach like Khari Jones already in place, Danny understands he will have to distance himself from the sidelines. As a matter of fact, if he could have chosen his commander in chief, something most GMs are usually adamant about, he would have hired Khari.
“After what he’s done in a very difficult situation, I’m surprised he wasn’t named Coach of the year, honestly. It is a privilege for me to be able to work with him and I don’t see how I could not have offered him a three-year deal.”
Danny and Khari have known each other since 2005. At the time, Danny was the Eskimos’ Head Coach and Khari was trying out to play his ninth season as a QB in the league. It turned out to be his last active season. Khari was released twice by the Eskimos, in 2005 and the following year in 2006. However, our Head Coach is not one to hold grudges. After all, the Eskimos had a pretty good weapon at the time in Ricky Ray.
“We always got along. I’m all for getting a different perspective around the table,” said Khari about his new boss’s involvement with the roster. “Whoever is going to be in that group, my job is going to be to coach them up and get the best players on the field. I’m really looking forward to it. We now have some outstanding people in place. It makes my job easier, I can finally just focus on the football side of things.”
There’s certainly a reason why our Head Coach’s beard grew more grey hairs towards the end of last season (sorry Khari, it does suit you though!): the third of the GM job that was incumbent on him was just an addition onto his already full plate. We bet he’s thrilled to only have to focus on his primary responsibilities along with those of the OC and the QB coach this year. Plus, he should be well supported by his right-hand man, André Bolduc, who had the opportunity to play for Danny as well from 1998 to 2001, and by the nine other members of his coaching staff. Nine members he handpicked. Himself.
“Building the coaching staff should be the Head Coach’s responsibility,” Danny confirmed on Monday morning. “I was a coach long enough to understand that. Even if I had been here already, I would have wanted Khari to choose his associates.”
While Khari’s task just became a little easier, Danny’s is quite significant. With free agency starting on February 11, our new GM will have to roll up his sleeves and get to work to ensure we have the best possible product on the field come June. A challenge he is thrilled to take on. Among his priorities are: hiring a team of scouts who possess a well-established network in the US, solidifying the defensive line and increasing depth in terms of Canadian content preferably with local players.
“There are many great Quebec players like Sean Thomas Erlington, for example, who were drafted in later rounds in the past years. We have to be able to get our hands on these guys and acquire a maximum of talented Quebecers.”
Thankfully, Danny and Khari have already started discussing the type of players they want for our locker room. As they’ll be carrying on those conversations in the upcoming weeks, our President, Mario Cecchini, will certainly have to show his own results to our new owners soon enough, with their short-term goals being the following: regrouping the entire organization under the same roof, including a new training facility, increasing the number of season members (good news: we’re on the right track) and rekindling the relationship with Quebec’s business community.
“All efforts will be put forward to bring this team even further,” ensures Mario who is primarily known for his accomplishments with Corus and Astral. “Our performance on the field remains the number one priority because when the product is exciting, the fans are happy. And when the fans are happy, corporate partnerships follow.”
While Danny is seeing an 18-year-old-dream come true, Mario had been coveting his new position for over ten years. He always had the Alouettes close at heart.
“I fell in love with football thanks to my father who passed away in 2006. I saw the immaculate reception with my own eyes when I was eight and I immediately found the sport amazing. In the 70s, when the tickets were $4 at the Olympic Stadium, I would take the metro to attend nearly every game. I was always the shortest guy in the stands and everyone would spill their beers on me. I would go home and my dad would ask me if I had beer at the stadium.”
Mario did not drink beer at the stadium when he was 11 years old, don’t worry. He was way too focused on watching Gabriel Grégoire, Junior Ah You or Gerry Dattilio play. To this day, Mario rarely misses a game. If he’s not at the stadium or in front of the tube, he records it and watches it in his free time.
We now have four highly passionate men sailing our ship. Four passionate men who are each fulfilling their own dream with only one thing in mind: to win. All is set. 2020, here we come.