The walls of Danny Maciocia’s new office at Montreal Alouettes headquarters in the Olympic Stadium give a strong indication as to how busy he’s been since taking over as the team’s general manager.
Even if he wanted to put a personal touch on his new space with a few mementoes, there would hardly be room to squeeze it in between all the player name cards on depth charts in different formations.
“It’s been pretty hectic. Clearly we’re a little bit behind the eight ball,” Maciocia says.
“It’s an adaptation period right now that I’m going through, just trying to familiarize myself with some of these players who are under contract.”
Maciocia took over as general manager on Jan. 13, well into the CFL off-season which began at the end of November. He’s taking over a job that has been in flux since the team fired its previous GM, Kavis Reed, in the middle of July.
“We’re going to inherit certain contracts that are not necessarily favourable moving forward, so we’re going to have some issues with the [salary] cap,” Maciocia says.
Maciocia is up to the challenge
Arriving in a new job with challenges isn’t new for Maciocia.
When he took over the Université de Montréal Carabins football program following the 2010 season, he was walking into a potential hornets’ nest.
He replaced Marc Santerre — a popular coach with the players whose contract wasn’t renewed — and at the time, some players threatened publicly to mount a protest against the move to push Santerre out.
But once Maciocia arrived, any talk of a revolt quickly dissipated, and in short order he turned the Carabins into a threat to win a national championship year after year.
In 2014, he achieved university football’s ultimate goal when his team defeated the McMaster Marauders to win the Vanier Cup.
Since that 2014 triumph, it seemed like every time there was an open position at the Alouettes head office, his name was at the top of the candidate list.
Yet, he waited until now to finally make the leap back to the professional game. He says leaving the Carabins program wasn’t an easy decision, but it was time.
“At 52 years old, I was looking for another challenge and [the Alouettes] is always one that has been dear to my heart.”
Maciocia got his start working in professional football when he joined the Alouettes staff after they moved to the city from Baltimore in 1996.
He held various positions including offensive co-ordinator before he moved west to take a job in Edmonton in 2002. In 2003, he tasted victory when the Eskimos won the Grey Cup.
Leaving Montreal without winning a championship is something he has never been able to let go.
The Alouettes are the only team he’s been with that hasn’t won a championship, Maciocia says.
“It would be very dear to me if we could not only win a championship on the field but bring the pride and bring the passion and excitement back.”
With new owners Gary Stern and Sid Spiegel in control and new president Mario Cecchini in charge, he figured now was the right time to chase his goal.
“They’re all about empowering their people, which was music to my ears. The timing was perfect.”
Canadian players are a priority
Given the challenges with the roster Maciocia has inherited, it will take some time for him to mould it into his ideal situation.
He has outlined three areas as priorities in the short term: shoring up Canadian talent, building a dominant offensive line and securing an elite quarterback.
“I think in a week and a half’s time, we’ve addressed those three facets,” he said Tuesday, after announcing the team inked quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. until the end of the 2022 season.
“We’ve haven’t had a bona fide elite quarterback since probably Anthony Calvillo, and we wanted to secure Vernon moving forward,” he says.
As for creating a pipeline of Canadian talent, Maciocia hopes his connections to the university game and the grassroots level of football in the province — he started his coaching career with the St-Leonard Cougars — will be an asset in his new job.
A family decision
However, Maciocia might not have made the leap back to the pros had his family not supported the move. He says his wife’s encouragement was critical, but he also had other considerations — his three daughters who are 12, 16 and 20.
“Their lives are going to change also,” he said.
“When they go to school, there are going to be times where we may drop a game or two along the way, and certain things may be said [in the media], and the question is going to be, ‘How are you going to handle it?'”
Maciocia says after discussing it with his family, they’re all behind him. Without that, taking on a job like this wouldn’t be possible.
“I’ve got their support. There is clearly a sense of excitement, and I’m looking forward to having them there when we open up our first regular season game at home,” Maciocia says.
The Alouettes home opener for the 2020 season is Thursday, July 2, when they take on the Ottawa RedBlacks.