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O’Leary: Als confident that they’ll be back stronger in 2021

In sports, teams always try to set the tone as quickly as possible to get themselves on the right path.

With the league cancelling its season on Monday, the brass of the Montreal Alouettes went the same route.

“I want to be clear off the bat, the Alouettes are here to stay,” team president Mario Cecchini said in his opening remarks with Montreal reporters Monday afternoon.

“The league is here to stay and we will survive this just like we’ve survived other obstacles we’ve had over the last 100 years. You know sports people, after a win or a loss you have a short memory and you’re on to the next thing. As of (Tuesday) morning, Danny (Maciocia), Khari (Jones) and myself will be all about 2021 and making it great again.”

Around the same time, the co-owner of the team was reiterating the same message.

“The CFL’s not coming to an end. I’m optimistic. I’m the same guy who stood there in January (when the team’s sale was announced) and said this is a strong league that’s going forward. It’s going to be played next year and we’re going to be strong,” Gary Stern told Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette.

While there was a sadness to the tone of the conference call, the Alouettes’ held on to that optimism. The feeling around the league on Monday, based off of interviews players gave and the tone from organizations’ officials that spoke, was to let the sting of the lost season set in for a day, then to use Tuesday and beyond to focus on next season and the future.

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Alouettes president Mario Cecchini, coach Khari Jones, co-owner Gary Stern and GM Danny Maciocia all together on Jan. 13, 2020 (Photo: The Canadian Press)

“Let me be extremely blunt in terms of why I can be so optimistic. It’s because Gary Stern and Sid Spiegel are involved in this,” Cecchini said.

“They’ve assured me…as we did numerous times through all of this that they are committed. It’s going to be tough short-term in terms of the financial situation but they are there to back it up and they are there to see a bright CFL future. That allows me to be extremely confident about it. They’ve been extremely optimistic since Day 1.

“We’ve also taken some steps on the business point of view to be in a better position, financially. We’ll now have the luxury of time, which we don’t often have, to look ahead. When the pandemic hit, we were high double digits ahead of last year in terms of ticket sales. We were starting to have some very interesting sponsorship meetings, we saw a certain enthusiasm…through the first few months of the year.

“The draft was also very positive. We were able to draft five Quebecers out of our eight choices. Everything was in the right direction at that time. These factors allow me to be extremely optimistic.”

Assuming things play out favourably for not just the league but Canada as a whole and the virus is eliminated or extremely well-controlled in the new year, we’re looking at the wheels of a new season getting in motion in about eight months. This has been a year of the unprecedented, but coaches and GMs will trek further into uncharted territory with what will amount to three off-seasons to get ready for a restart.

“You need to understand that when Mario and I arrived, we arrived real late to the dance, to the party,” said Maciocia. “We were in catch-up mode, we joke about it, Mario and I. We were hired, the press conference was on January 13 and we got on the payroll by February 3 and we had already signed our quarterback to a three-year extension. We were going hard, we were trying to catch up on a lot of lost time.

“This is going to be an opportunity on several fronts. One, we give ourselves an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. How do we want to look moving forward? What are the certain areas we feel we need to get better?

“Second for me, it gives me an opportunity to get to know Khari. I’ll probably be speaking to him possibly more than I’ll be speaking to my wife and my kids. You want to figure out how we’re going to look in 2021, what kind of identity do we want to have on offence, defence and special teams.

“We can be as detailed as we want to be. The time in front of us will give us the opportunity to do so. We can build a team –and I say we — can build a team and fix the image that we’d like to portray out there with the 2021 edition of the Montreal Alouettes. It’s a great opportunity and it gives us a chance to reinvent ourselves. Hopefully, we can take advantage of it and if we do it’s going to pay dividends for us whether it’s short-term, mid-term or long-term, there’s no question about it.”

Jones, who inked a three-year contract just after the Als’ season ended in 2019, said that he expected to be in constant communication with Maciocia.

“We’re going to be talking about the roster and what’s happening to it. I think that’s going to be a fluid thing and I’ll leave it to Danny to figure out the contracts and all that fun stuff,” he said.

“We just have to assemble a team, not only a team, a coaching staff, everything. We have to look at everything and treat it like it’s the off-season. It will probably be similar to the leadup to this season, getting everything ready and getting ready for training camp.

“There is a long way to go but there are always things that you can be doing and trying to figure out and trying to make your team better.”

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