Farewell to The Don
Don Matthews always struck me as a sturdy, if weathered, man. He has a military past and, at times, carried himself with a military bearing.
So the fact he has now left head coaching positions in the Canadian Football League twice in the past six years citing "health problems" is strange. Fishy even.
He's 67 with a lot of miles on his professional and personal life, so it could well be the health problems that drove him to a controversial exit out of Edmonton in 2000 simply popped up again this season in Montreal, forcing him to leave as the club's head coach on Wednesday.
Whether he resigned or was fired, of course, may never be known, sort of like Mike Keenan's departure from the Florida Panthers a few weeks ago.
Few people in Montreal are buying the gracious exit line being fed by the Alouettes, if only because Matthews has made an awful lot of media enemies in that city over the years. Montreal Gazette columnist Jack Todd insists it was a firing, and certainly that newspaper's football writer Herb Zurkowsky looks awfully smart today for holding his ground and reporting a month ago that the Als had sent feelers around to Calgary executive Jim Barker to see if he'd be willing to take over the Als if Matthews left.
The Als were denying that again yesterday, but it seems clear that Matthews' departure was the culmination of a weeks long process, not a sudden bolt of lightning. The Alouettes have been plummeting for two months now, and CFL history tells us that Matthews, the league's all-time winningest coach, has worn out his welcome before.
GM Jim Popp, 0-2 as Alouette coach after taking over from Rod Rust some years ago, is now the coach, and there's a strong sense the Montreal freefall will continue.
Suddenly, the Argonauts are the clear favourites to win the east, host the eastern final and make it to November's Grey Cup game in Winnipeg. Pinball Clemons' group gets three of its final four games at home and plays the woeful Edmonton Eskimos twice.
With Matthews gone, the biggest threat to the Argos may be inconsistent Winnipeg, a strong defensive club that will be trying to play at home in the Grey Cup game.