MONTREAL â€” For Billy Parker, the tough part of becoming a coach will be ordering around some of his old buddies in the Montreal Alouettes defence.
Parker, who retired after eight seasons with the Alouettes, was named a defensive assistant coach in Jacques Chapdelaine’s staff last week.
“The only ones I would have a hard time if I had to correct them would be (defensive end) John Bowman and (linebacker) Chip Cox,” Parker said Friday as the new staff was introduced to the media in the team’s locker-room. “I’ve been playing with them and I am truly friends with them.
“We’re very close. But because we’re friends and have great respect for one another, they understand that it’s my job and that I wouldn’t do anything but try to help them. But I’m sure we will have some fun with that new dynamic in our relationship.”
Parker, a fixture in the Alouettes’ backfield since 2009, wanted to be a coach even before he joined the Canadian Football League club.
The 35-year-old got the coaching bug when he played arena football from 2005 to 2008 with the defunct New York Dragons and coach Weylan Harding asked him to help analyse film and offer suggestions.
“That was the first time I sat down and looked at coaching,” said Parker. “That sparked that interest.
“Since then, I’ve been looking at the game, paying attention and trying to get opportunities to help me grow for this moment.”
The defence has been one of the only bright spots on the once-powerful Alouettes as they missed the playoff the last two seasons, but they opted to make changes for the 2017 campaign. Defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe is back for a fifth season, but instead of having assistants assigned to specific positions, they’ll have generic job titles. Former linebackers coach Greg Quick is senior defensive assistant white Parker and Jason Hogan are assistants.
The plan is to have coaches work with player on the various aspects of defensive play.
“There will be leadership roles,” said Thorpe. “A lot of the front play will be taken by coach Quick.
“I’m going to be a conduit between the front and back ends. Because most of his expertise is in the cover game, Billy will have a leadership role in the back end, along with Hogan working with the free safeties. The division won’t cause any problem at all.”
A coaching shake-up was expected. Chapdelaine, who had been brought in to help Anthony Calvillo as offensive co-ordinator, ended up replacing Jim Popp as head coach in September. The team went 4-2 under his guidance and he was kept on when Popp was replaced as general manager by former special team co-ordinator Kavis Reed.
Parker knew he would retire from playing at the end of last season but didn’t think there were any coaching jobs open in Montreal. He had been looking for a job when Thorpe called offering a spot.
“When I came here in 2013 Billy was already having a successful career and I knew that at some point there would be a transition into coaching,” said Thorpe. “This is something he said he wanted to do.
“And he has a coaching pedigree. He comes from a teaching family. Both of his parents are in the educational system. You could see how he embraced and taught young football players, so it was a natural fit for us.”
Parker’s father is a school principal and his mother is a special education teacher in their home town of Richmond, Va.
He goes in with a head start, having played in Thorpe’s defensive system for four years.
He also sees no problem with changing job titles, even if an outsider may say that what’s not broken shouldn’t be fixed.
“Our defence has been solid and is one of things that’s been consistent on the team, but we haven’t been winning,” said Parker. “You can’t stay the same.
“If you’re not trying to get better you’ll get worse. I think that’s what coach Thorpe is thinking. He’s proactive. If people say the team didn’t do well but the defence was good, that’s not good enough. We come here to be successful.”
Chapdelaine has kept the offensive co-ordinator and play calling roles he took from Calvillo last season, but the league’s all-time passing leader stayed on as quarterbacks coach. Calvillo admits he wasn’t fully prepared to become a co-ordinator only one season after retiring and welcomes the chance to learn the trade under Chapdelaine.
Also, he will still have a hand in game planning.
This year, the starter is newly acquired veteran Darian Durant, the former Saskatchewan pivot Calvillo edged out in the 2009 and 2010 Grey Cup games.
“Kevin Glenn was in the same category with us last year so I don’t think it will be a big issue,” said Calvillo. “It’s a matter of building a relationship with Darian and the other quarterbacks.”
A greater challenge may be handling Vernon Adams, who took over from Rakeem Cato in October and went 3-0 to finish his rookie season. Now Adams has been bumped to back-up status.
Chapdelaine said he has a candidate in mind for special teams co-ordinator who, if it works out, will be announced in March.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press