Leading the pack: All Montreal sports teams have Quebecers as head coaches for 1st time ever

(L-R) Montreal Canadiens head coach, Michel Therrien, Montreal Impact head coach Mauro Biello and Montreal Alouettes interim head coach Jacques Chapdelaine. The Canadian Press Images

Jacques Chapdelaine has just been named interim head coach of the Montreal Alouettes.

He’s expected to stay on for the rest of the season and — if he does — it will be the first time in the history of professional sports in Montreal that the head coaches of all three teams — the Canadiens, the Alouettes and the Impact — are Quebecers.

“When the fans can feel that connection — you’re in the minority in Canada that you speak French, but if the head coach is a local guy who you can connect with, who speaks your language, it’s more inspiring,” explained Joey Alfieri, a sports reporter at TSN690.

“Especially with the Alouettes and the Impact, you’re always trying to recruit new fans, get the younger fan base.”

“People forget they’re Montreal sports teams, but they also represent Quebec as a whole in the leagues.”

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The Alouettes, founded in 1946, have always had Americans leading their team; this is the first time the organization has sourced locally when filling their top job.

The 55-year-old Sherbrooke native played for the Montreal Concordes in 1985.

The original Alouettes franchise had  folded in 1982 and was revived as the Concordes the next day.

They played as the Concordes for four seasons and rebranded as the Alouettes for the 1986 season, a year in which Chapdelaine played for the team.

The Allouettes folded again in 1987, but returned for the 1996 season when the Baltimore Stallions left the United States for Montreal.

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Not only does Chapdelaine have 25 years of experience, but he was the only candidate in the running for interim who speaks French.

“Jacques Chapdelaine speaks French, so a guy from Sagueney-Lac-Saint-Jean could take the long drive to support the team,” said Alfieri.

“That’s how Quebecers are. They’re patriotic and they like to support our local guys.”

Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien.
Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The Habs, on the other hand, have boasted a long line of local coaches, starting with Cecil Hart, who was born in Bedford, Quebec.

Hart served as the team’s head coach from 1926–1932.

Between Hart and current head coach Michel Therrien‘s most recent stint with the Canadiens, there were 15 other Quebecers who held the job.

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A rookie in 2000, Therrien first coached the Habs after the team fired Alain Vigneault.

He stayed for a few years before going to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005.

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Therrien returned to Montreal in 2012 and remains as head coach despite people calling for his resignation after the Habs failed to reach the playoffs in the 2015-16 season.

Alfieri explained the Habs’ knack for hiring local could be because the organization tries to appeal to its fan base.

“There’s an uproar if they hire a coach who doesn’t speak French,” he said, pinpointing the controversy when Randy Cunneyworth took over in 2011-2012 for 50 games.

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Head coach of the Montreal Impact Mauro Biello.
Head coach of the Montreal Impact Mauro Biello. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

The Impact is the youngest professional team in Montreal, having joined the MLS in 2012 and hiring American Jesse Marsch as coach.

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Mauro Biello, 44, served as interim coach before the job was given to Marco Schällibaumin 2013 and Frank Klopas from 2013 to 2015.

The former professional soccer player was once again named head coach in 2015.

“Coaching this team, where I played and where I’m from, it obviously means a lot to me and what we can achieve here as a team,” said Biello.

 “I’m sure it means a lot to [Therrien and Chapdelaine] to have that success here where they grew up and in the end, you’ll always have that because this is where you’re from.”

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“If you’re able to transmit that passion to your group, then it becomes beneficial to your team.”

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“If I’m just a Quebec, French-speaking kid playing soccer and I see that guy from Montreal, like Mauro Biello, born and raised here, you feel like the dream isn’t necessarily as impossible as if there was no French players or coaches coming through,” said Alfieri.

“It’s only natural that you think if this kid from here can do it, there’s nothing in the way of me reaching that level one day.”

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