Firing by Ottawa Redblacks in rear-view mirror for Marcel Desjardins

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As much as it stung when he was fired by the Ottawa Redblacks in late October of 2021, Marcel Desjardins doesn’t want to get into any mudslinging with his former team.

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Instead, a bit more than two years later, he’s pointing himself forward, excited about a new opportunity.

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The Montreal Alouettes announced last week Desjardins, who helped get the Redblacks to three Grey Cups (winning in 2016) as the team’s first general manager, has been hired as special assistant to general manager Danny Maciocia and player personnel.

It was the right opportunity at the right time for the 57 year old, who, angered and hurt by his dismissal by the Redblacks, hadn’t paid much attention to the CFL the past couple of years.

“I just chose not to (watch),” Desjardins said. “My reasons are my reasons. There were other things that were more important, put it that way.”

Unchanged through his seven seasons as the Redblacks GM was his honesty, integrity and a straight-forward way of dealing with people. What you saw was what you got, black and white — no surprises, no tricks, just truths that were sometimes difficult for others to digest.

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“I’m the same person,” Desjardins said. “Some people like it, some don’t.”

When Mark Goudie walked into his office at 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 25, 2021, and delivered the news, Desjardins told the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group president and CEO: “You’re making a mistake.”

Coming off a 3-15 2019 season, the Redblacks were 2-9 in 2021 when Desjardins was let go. The Redblacks finished the season with three wins, then fired coach Paul LaPolice during a 2022 season when they won just four games. Ottawa also won just four times a year ago.

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Asked if he reflects on his time in Ottawa, Desjardins said: “No, I don’t. I don’t get too high about anything. I don’t get too low about anything. Life goes on. I moved on. I’m happy with what I did there. At the end of the day, they weren’t happy and they made their decision.

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“I don’t dwell on it. I’ve got this opportunity in Montreal I’m excited about and I’m not going to look in the rear-view mirror.”

Asked what he’d been up to since leaving the Redblacks, Desjardins said: “Whatever I wanted, at any time I wanted. That was basically it. I’m not going to get into that. Put it this way, I was closer to family and was able to connect with brother, sister, niece, nephew, aunts, uncles and that. There was a lot of catching up to do.”

So why a return to the CFL and why Montreal?

It’s Desjardins’ third time around. He joined the organization in 1999 as assistant director of football operations, then was assistant GM (2002-06). Desjardins was also the GM of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 2006-07, then returned to Montreal in 2008 as assistant GM until 2012.

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Desjardins was the Redblacks’ first football employee, hired as general manager in late January of 2013. The team got to the Grey Cup in 2015 (losing 26-20 to Edmonton), won it in 2016 (39-33 over Calgary in overtime), then got there again in 2018 (losing 27-16 to Calgary). 

“I didn’t go looking for anything,” said Desjardins, who won’t say where he is living after moving from Ottawa a bit more than a year and a half ago — finally conceding it is ‘somewhere in southern Ontario.’

“Danny came to me and asked me if I’d be interested and I gave it some thought. If it was anywhere else, I probably wouldn’t do this, but because it’s Montreal and because it’s people I know, people I trust, I’m willing to do it.

The job he’s taken on will allow him to work from home.

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“I don’t need to relocate, it’s more an arm’s-length thing,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of fond memories of my time in Montreal. (The Alouettes) don’t need any help to win. I’m just trying to help out with their process and maybe fine tune a few things if I’m asked.”

There’s a connection with several people in the Alouettes organization, including Maciocia, president/CEO Mark Weightman, assistant GM Pier-Yves Lavergne, senior personnel executive Jean-Marc Edme and coaches Jason Maas, Noel Thorpe and Anthony Calvillo. 

“Danny was a coach with the Alouettes when I went there in 1999,” Desjardins said. “So, I got to know him a bit then. We stayed in touch, throughout his time in Edmonton, throughout his time at the University of Montreal.  I interviewed him for the head coaching job in Ottawa when we first started up.

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“He would touch base with me regularly and we talked when he took over in Montreal. We’re similar in a lot of ways in terms of how we go about our business. That’s kind of how it’s played out over the last 20-something years in terms of our connection.”

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Asked what his duties would be, he said: “It’s a function of being able to help them really in any capacity they want, specifically with administration process on the one side, then having a hand in the personnel side, more on the U.S. side than on the Canadian side.

“It’s pretty much full-time. I’m going to be committing a lot of time to watching film and getting a lot of phone calls, certainly in the off-season.

“I won’t be there every day. But I’ll probably be communicating with them multiple times a day.

“It’s not as if there are any guardrails up as to what (the job) is, we’ll see how it evolves.”

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