In late September, with the Alouettes’ season seemingly on the path to nowhere and the team at 2-4, defensive-line coach Todd Howard was fired , replaced by Greg Quick.
The defence, revamped through free agency, had allowed 154 points while producing only 16 quarterback sacks.
Although Montreal finished with a 7-7 record, it went on a four-game winning streak immediately following the switch, and allowed more than 20 points only once in its final eight games. The Als became much more aggressive on defence , leading the league with 49 sacks while tying for the lead in interceptions, with 17. They also had a CFL-best 87 two-and-out situations.
More than one player has credited Quick for the metamorphosis, saying he simplified things. They also cited the passion he brings to the unit.
“His enthusiasm is contagious,” said defensive-end David Ménard, one of seven Als players named Wednesday to the East Division all-star team. “When it comes from your coach, you have to get on board and share that enthusiasm. Honestly, it’s good at this point of the season. We need that.
“It’s getting cold. I’m not going to lie, you really don’t want to be on the field practising when it’s that cold. When you have a coach that’s enthusiastic and trying to bring the best out of us, it’s a lot at this point of the season.”
Veteran linebacker Patrick Levels said Quick has the energy of a 22-year-old, although he’s turning 65 next week. Levels noticed that energy and passion immediately.
“It’s not him just trying to get people motivated,” Levels said. “He actually still has that passion and that keeps everybody to that level. We have an older coach that comes in with energy, and that’s very contagious. He has those guys understanding their fits and roles, and holds everyone accountable. He’s everywhere. Him being around and being more involved has definitely helped us.”
Rookie defensive-end Jamal Davis , who didn’t become a regular until early October, said Quick simply wants the unit to get to the ball, create pressure on the quarterback and get into the backfield.
“I love coach Quick and respect him wholeheartedly,” Davis said.
While coaches generally are loath to talk about themselves, Quick intimated the time had come in the season where something had to give. He had been a defensive and special-teams assistant before the promotion, and is being aided by Byron Archambault, who remains the Als’ director of national scouting.
“It begins with an organization that has strong enough leadership to make change when change is necessary,” Quick said. “Hopefully, I brought a level of passion and wisdom. And was in the right place at the right time. Success is often all about that.”
Quick’s in his fifth decade of coaching, getting his start in 1979 at age 23. And he has worked extensively in the CFL, with Toronto twice, the Als three times and Saskatchewan, where he was the defensive co-ordinator in 2015. He understands the importance of defence in championship runs, and that side of the ball might prove even more valuable given the late start to the season that now ends with the Dec. 12 Grey Cup.
“Without playing strong defence, you’re not given the opportunity to win a championship,” he said. “If you can’t play defence, get the two and outs, the takeaways and you can’t stop the run, you’re going to have a hard time winning championships. It’s all about complementary football. That starts with defence and special teams. We’re the set-up guy and (the offence) are the closers.
“What’s neat about our sacks total is that every position group is represented. The sack total represents our whole defence. That’s the powerful thing about it.”
The Als had a strong offensive representation on the division all-star team. Named were tailback William Stanback, receivers Eugene Lewis and Jake Wieneke, along with guard Kristian Matte and tackle Landon Rice. Cornerback Monshadrick Hunter joins Ménard on defence.
“If we don’t end up with the Grey Cup, (being an all-star) won’t mean anything — although, of course, I’m going to bring it up when I negotiate my next contract,” Ménard quipped.
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