Can American coaches succeed in Canadian football?
The jury is always out.
Take the 2013 Montreal Alouettes who, to me, are looking right now very much like the 1983 Edmonton Eskimos.
Let's return, first, to 1983 and the Eskimos. Loads of talent - including quarterback Warren Moon - returning as the team pursued an unprecedented sixth straight Grey Cup title. The Eskimos did not do it.
Why? Largely because coach Hugh Campbell, having moved on to the NFL's Houston Oilers, was no longer in charge in Edmonton. Someone named Pete Kettela was. But he didn't 'get' Canadian football with all its intricacies; tried to impose an 'American' game on Canadian rules, was found wanting and was fired after a 4-4 start. CFL veteran Jackie Parker, an American but a hall of famer and Canadian football knowledgeable, filled in and guided the Eskimos to the playoffs where they were beaten by a superior Winnipeg Blue Bombers team but, at least, the Eskimos returned to Canadian-style football and by 1987 were again champions.
So, on to the Alouettes. They've set a standard of excellence under American coaches like Don Matthews (a longtime CFL veteran) and then Marc Trestman, who faced his own questions as an American coming to a new game but embraced and learned the Canadian game and as a result led the Alouettes to four division titles, three Grey Cup game appearances and two Grey Cup wins in his five-year tenure before leaving for the NFL's Chicago Bears.
So enter Dan Hawkins, new head coach, with a somewhat chequered coaching career, someone who has never coached in pro football let alone the CFL and whose staff is relatively bereft of Canadian football-knowledgeable people. He's installed a new system, naturally enough, any new coach will change things up to put his imprint on the squad, but it's not working to date.
So the Als, typically a team over the last decade that gets off to quick starts both in the standings and in individual games, is off to a 1-2 start after Friday night's 22-14 home loss to the Calgary Stampeders. Montreal has scored 25 points in its last two games - a total the old Als often put up in one quarter of a game. Expect the Als, long a CFL power, to be 1-3 after the return match in Calgary next week.
Alouettes general manager Jim Popp has been a sporting genius with respect to CFL performance - four Grey Cup wins in 10 appearances - but so far, and it's just three games, he's had a rare fail with the hiring of Hawkins.
Sure, it's really early in an 18-game season. But so far, things do not look right in Montreal and it reminds we oldtimers of Edmonton circa 1983.
ADDENDUM: Alouettes scraped by Edmonton 32-27 on Thursday night, ran the ball really well but they're employing a more American style (though it's less so in the now pass-happy NFL) run first, pass second offensive scenario which in three-down football, well, I just don't know. Als are now often using a double tight end offence (double tight ends, in the CFL?!) which sacrifices things like a six-pack or at least five-pack of receivers which is generally used in Canadian ball. We'll see, but in Thursday's game the Als while protecting a lead often ran first, gain of three, second and seven and that's risky with one fewer down than in American football.