CFL Pass

CFL: Montreal Alouettes boss confident 'smooth air' close for team

Kavis Reed must wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, throw his arms in the air and ask ‘Why me, Lord?’

Here he is, arriving home in Edmonton where his wife and family reside year-round and where Reed lives during the deep freeze days of winter and, as usual, he’s still in search of what he calls “smooth air.”

Reed is the general manager of the Montreal Alouettes, an outfit that others in the league are now calling Canada’s Team.

After 22 years of solid ownership by Bob Wettenhall, including eight trips to the Grey Cup, the struggling Als were dumped in the lap of the league to own and operate this season while a search for a new backer begins.

And then Reed on Sunday, with a season to kickoff here Friday, decided he had no choice but to fire head coach Mike Sherman and replace him with offensive coordinator Khari Jones.

From a distance, this can’t help but look like continued chaos in Reed’s chaotic career, but he comes home to start a new season on the road convinced smooth air is closer than it may appear to the average eye.

Consider what this guy has gone through.

An all-star from 1995 to 1999 for the Eskimos, Reed was enjoying an excellent career when it all came to a conclusion in a split second with a career-ending neck injury.

Possessing an off-the-charts IQ with a degree in medicine, Reed chose to join his former Eskimos defensive coordinator Rich Stubler in Toronto as an assistant coach.

And then it began.

As the special teams coordinator with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Reed took the rap for the 13th man on the field that cost them an already-won 2009 Grey Cup game to the Alouettes in Calgary, though it’s impossible to find anyone who thought he was in any way to blame.

In 2011, Reed was finally given his dream job as head coach of the Eskimos only to discover that the man who hired him, Eric Tillman, was going to lose his mind and trade Ricky Ray then virtually abdicate the job. Continuing to reside in Regina where he lost his job with the Roughriders after an incident involving his babysitter, Tillman left Reed doing a significant amount of the GM job as well. While that turned out to be excellent training for his current job, Reed has never realized his goal of creating smooth air to fly as either coach or GM.

Reed, who looks forward to his in-season trips to Edmonton for odd pleasures like mowing the lawn in addition to being home with his wife of 20 years Darlene and two children, Tyra, 19, and Tarik, 17, has maintained his family home here from his playing days when they met and started their family.

Reed always seems to return home in the middle of a jackpot and this is no normal scenario to start a season.

When he last visited with his team in tow, Reed had the Johnny Manziel circus to deal with, although the celebrated Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback did not make the trip due to a concussion. Instead, it was Antonio Pipkin at the pivot position in a 10th consecutive loss to the Eskimos. Pipkin was, that day, the 15th Alouettes starting quarterback for the Als since Anthony Calvillo retired.

Pitkin will start for Montreal Friday.

“It’s what this franchise has been looking for since Anthony Calvillo retired,” Reed said of the stability of having a No. 1 to go forward with and grow together.

People are hardly going to make Grey Cup reservations in Calgary based on that.

It’s the last-minute head coaching change that created the buzz for Reed’s return this year.

I witnessed Don Matthews get fired by the Eskimos as head coach during training camp, and I watched the Alouettes fold the franchise the day before the season started. But I’ve never before seen a coach fired six days before the first regular season game.

“It was discussed for three or four days. The right people were in the room when we discussed it. We really feel comfortable with it,” said Reed. “We think it’s a decision to help make us competitive this year. It was the combination of believing this football team was going to compete this year, and it wasn’t going to be the right thing for the coach and the team to move forward.”

Sherman’s slow progress in making the transition to Canadian football and the accelerated path Reed believed the Als were on weren’t compatible, he suggested.

While most pre-season prognosticators have the Alouettes ranked dead last going into the lid-lifter, Reed said this isn’t the same team that went 5-13 last season.

“We really feel our chemistry is really clicking. That’s one of the key things,” he said. “We felt that was one of the reasons we haven’t had the success early enough and that we hadn’t had the right kind of culture. In free agency, we got people who are used to winning and we’ve been able to modify our roster. We finally got to that 27.3-year average age that we really want and we feel we now have the ingredients to be a very competitive football team.

“I feel very good about this football team. It’s been a process. We’ve developed chemistry with the guys. We have relatively good health going into the season. I feel very strongly about this team. We will compete very well this year.”