The Montreal Alouettes confirmed Tuesday that they've hired former Boise State and Colorado coach Dan Hawkins as their new head coach. As discussed last week when the news first came out (the delay between the news and the official announcement was probably to line up the massive coaching staff also announced Tuesday), the Hawkins hire is a highly unconventional one; while he's found notable coaching success over the years (particularly at Boise State), his Colorado tenure did not go well, and he's been working as an ESPN analyst since then. It's his lack of CFL experience that stands out the most, though, and it puts him in a very exclusive recent club. By my count, there have been only been three CFL head coaches with no previous coaching experience in the league since 2000 (possibly four depending on how you count one candidate). Here they are:
Marc Trestman: Hawkins' predecessor in Montreal's the most obvious name here, and it's the name on this list Alouettes' fans will be hoping proves the most apt comparison. Trestman had a long tenure of NFL and NCAA success before he came north, but many were skeptical at first how well his skills would translate to the CFL, especially considering that he hadn't been a head coach before. Trestman proved the doubters wrong, though, taking the already-impressive Alouettes to a new level and revitalizing the career of Anthony Calvillo. He took over before the 2008 season and took Montreal to the Grey Cup that year (losing to Calgary), then won back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010 (the first time anyone had done that since Don Matthews with Toronto in 1996 and 1997). The Als came up short in the playoffs the past two years, but still had impressive seasons, and Trestman's five-year tenure was quite miraculous overall: he went 59-31 in the regular season (a .656 winning percentage) and 5-3 in the playoffs. His success in Montreal was a key reason why he was hired as the Chicago Bears' head coach this offseason.
Bart Andrus: Well, talk about a contrast: while Trestman's arguably one of the best CFL coaches of the last decade, there's a strong argument that Andrus, the preceding hire with no experience in the league, might be one of the worst CFL coaches ever. His pre-CFL resume wasn't bad, including stints in the NFL, NCAA and NFL Europe, but he just never got the Canadian game; he continually tried to change things to the way he was accustomed to, and it never worked out. The Argonauts went 3-15 in 2009, Andrus' lone season as head coach, and he was fired shortly thereafter, but he remains a CFL punchline to this day.
Matt Dunigan: This comparison also doesn't bode well for Hawkins. Like Hawkins, Dunigan was hired out of the broadcast booth (with TSN rather than ESPN) without any previous CFL coaching experience, but his tenure as the coach and general manager of the Calgary Stampeders did not go well. The team went 4-14 in Dunigan's lone season, 2004, and he was fired. That's not all Dunigan's fault, as Calgary's ownership was a gong show at that point (Allan Maki's description of Michael Feterik and Fred Fateri as "The Two Stooges" is perfectly apt), but his tenure as a head coach certainly didn't work well. Of course, Hawkins has way more coaching experience than Dunigan did, but Dunigan also was familiar with the CFL from his days as a player and analyst, while Hawkins is completely new to the league (aside from a stint as a guest coach at Alouettes' camp).
John Huard: Whether Huard counts here or not depends on your interpretation. He'd never actually coached a CFL game before he went 1-6-1 as Toronto's head coach in 2000 and was fired midseason. However, he'd technically been a CFL head coach twice before: he was hired as the head coach of the Atlantic Schooners' expansion franchise in 1984 before that collapsed without the team playing a game, and he was hired as the head coach of the Shreveport Pirates in 1994, but Lonie Glieberman fired him before the season started. (Oddly enough, it was the same man who hired him in all three cases, legendary CFL executive J.I. Albrecht). Regardless, his tenure as a CFL head coach didn't go well. (He was a successful coach elsewhere in the Canadian game, though, winning Vanier Cups with Acadia in 1979 and 1981.) He did have CFL experience as a player, too.
That's largely not a favourable list for Hawkins, as the only successful coach CFL on this list is Trestman, making for either a 66 per cent or a 75 per cent failure rate (depending on if Huard is counted) of CFL newbies since 2000. It is a small sample size, though, and Trestman's CFL career was spectacular. It's notable that Hawkins was hired by the same man as Trestman, too, long-time Alouettes' general manager Jim Popp. Hawkins also doesn't have to handle personnel stuff, which both Dunigan and Andrus were expected to. The learning curve of becoming a CFL head coach and general manager is much steeper than the one to become just a head coach. Still, Hawkins will be hoping that he can do better than most CFL head coaches without experience in the league have. We'll see if he's the next Trestman or the next Andrus.