When he was fired as Saskatchewan’s offensive coordinator on Nov. 1, Jason Maas might never have imagined he’d be introduced as the Alouettes’ new head coach seven weeks later.
“There’s nothing quite like it, when someone comes in and tells you they’re letting you go,” Maas said Tuesday afternoon, three days after the organization announced his hiring. “It was an emotional day.
“Did I imagine, weeks later, I’d be sitting here in front of you? No. I was aware of the situation … and assumed I might get an interview. I was hoping for one.”
Maas, 47, has been fired before. At the conclusion of the 2019 season — his fourth as Edmonton’s head coach — he was dismissed by general manager Brock Sunderland. Sunderland inherited Maas, albeit in 2017, meaning a relationship had been somewhat established. But Maas wasn’t hired by Sunderland and so, following an 8-10 season, and despite advancing to within one game of reaching the Grey Cup, Sunderland had his out.
This situation is different. Maas, one of five finalists for the Montreal job, was hired by GM Danny Maciocia, and their relationship dates 20 years, when Maas played quarterback at Edmonton and Maciocia was hired as the team’s offensive coordinator before eventually becoming head coach and, ultimately, GM.
If the careers of both have been intertwined, so are their futures as well. Maciocia has two years remaining on his contract, so it’s safe to assume Maas has that long — at most — to show progress with a team that appears to be in some disarray.
Starting quarterback Trevor Harris and leading receiver Eugene Lewis are potential free agents. The organization is without a president after the Montreal Gazette reported on Monday Mario Cecchini’s contract wouldn’t be renewed. And while the team, supposedly, isn’t for sale, Cecchini’s termination might indicate that move is coming sooner rather than later.
Maas, who had a 39-33 record (3-3 in the playoffs) with Edmonton, knows what he has waded into — a team that has been no better than .500 the last two seasons, but made progress after Maciocia became the interim head coach in early July. Maas said he’s comfortable with the pressure and expectations, because he has a GM looking over his shoulder he can trust. Maas called Maciocia a very good friend.
“In this business, true friends can be hard to come by,” said Maas, a former QB coach at Toronto and OC in Ottawa. “When you can trust someone like I trust Danny, that’s what it’s all about. I’m excited about being with him.
“You believe and expect to win. Pressure? That’s pro sports. Pressure creates an environment that’s fun to work in at times. You want expectations to be high. You want people to have accountability. I have broad shoulders. I’ll deflect credit and take blame. I know who will get blamed if our offence doesn’t function, and I’m not worried about that.”
For the record, Maas will call the offensive plays and inherits at least five of last season’s assistant coaches — defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe; special-teams coordinator Byron Archambault; Anthony Calvillo (QBs); Greg Quick (defensive line) and Mike Lionello (receivers). Archambault becomes the assistant head coach, while Calvillo is the OC. Luc Brodeur-Jourdain (offensive line) could return and was in attendance on Tuesday, but André Bolduc (assistant head coach and running-backs coach) is joining Saskatchewan. Bolduc will be the Roughriders’ RB coach and run-game coordinator.
The hiring of Maas had been anticipated, considering he was the only candidate interviewed with CFL head coaching experience, along with the Maciocia factor. Given the Riders’ 6-12 record and season-ending seven-game losing streak, the move has been criticized in some media circles.
Maciocia noted the adversity Maas dealt with will only make him better.
“He’s still young and has a huge upside,” Maciocia said. “The last two years (in Saskatchewan) were a factor I considered. You’re in a hotbed of football. I watched the way he handled this year from a distance. He was calm, cool and collected. There was some stuff he controlled and might do differently. Others, he had no control over. He’s definitely battle tested. That was one of the boxes he was able to check off in terms of handling adversity. I’ve seen him go through it and have the answer.”
It was an emotional day for Maciocia, knowing Cecchini wouldn’t be returning. The two have known each other for years and were hired in 2020, one week after the Als were purchased by the late Sid Spiegel and his son-in-law, Gary Stern. Spiegel’s estate controls 75 per cent of the team. Stern drew criticism on social media over Cecchini’s departure after tweeting “the president wasn’t renewed for reasons kept between us.”
Maciocia didn’t address Cecchini’s departure, saying the day belonged to Maas. And, as long as the estate and Stern keep paying the bills, nothing should change short-term.
“Ideally, I’m about alignment and, right now, that alignment might not be there,” Maciocia said. “I don’t know what the future holds, but it shouldn’t prevent me from doing the job.”
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