Larry Smith stepping down after 12 years as Montreal Alouettes president
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, November 8, 2010 2:17PM EST
MONTREAL - Larry Smith has stepped down as president and CEO of the Montreal Alouettes but the ex-player and former Canadian Football League commissioner was guarded on why and what he plans to do next.
The 59-year-old announced Monday -- one day after the club ended the regular season in first place with a 12-6 record -- that he has resigned effective Dec. 31 after 12 years in two separate stints on the job.
Smith also played for the club but said only that he was leaving to "pursue other interests. There are things I want to do and the timing is good."
This season the Alouettes completed a second major renovation of Percival Molson Stadium that boosted capacity to 25,012 seats. The team ran its string of sellouts to 105 games since they moved out of Olympic Stadium in 1999.
Smith and the team have also been heavily involved in a revival of interest in football at the minor, college and pro levels in Quebec in the last 15 years.
Smith would not confirm that he is considering entering politics as a candidate for the Conservative Party in the next federal election. He considered running for the Conservative leadership in 2004 but decided against it.
Commissioner Mark Cohon saluted Smith on behalf of the league board of governors.
"Larry has done it all in our league," Cohon said in a statement. "As a player, he was a star running back for the Alouettes and a two-time Grey Cup champion.
"As commissioner of the CFL, he steered our league through some challenging and exciting times, helping to pave the way for the stability we enjoy today. And as president and CEO of the Alouettes, he has been instrumental in the revival not only of the team, but of the sport throughout the province."
Actually, Smith admitted the timing was "awkward," with the Alouettes about to play host to the East Division final Nov. 21 at Olympic Stadium. If they win, it would put the defending champions into the Grey Cup game for a third year in a row.
But he said it would take two months to find a successor and they want the new president in place for the start of the new year when ticket and sponsorship sales campaigns begin.
"From a tactical perspective it probably would have been better to announce this after the playoffs but we have pressing problems," Smith said. "We want to replace the position and not lose six months of business activity.
"This is the most important six months, starting in January. If we start now we have a better opportunity to have a person in place."
Team chairman Paul Harris will act as interim president and CEO until a successor is named.
Smith said the new president should be bilingual, have a strong management background and have some knowledge of football. Pierre Boivin is leaving as president of the Montreal Canadiens after this season but is not expected to show any interest in the Alouettes. Some feel former Alouette Michael Soles, now in the investment business, would make a good candidate.
Smith insisted it was his decision to leave, although there had been talk all season that he would not be kept on.
Reports in August said Smith had been fired, which he denied. They came at the same time that his son Wes was let go from a job in corporate sales.
Smith said his relationship with team owner Bob Wetenhall was solid and that Wetenhall will continue to use him as a consultant.
There were also reports of a rift between Smith and general manager Jim Popp, who is considered the architect of Alouette teams that have had winning records every year except one since the franchise returned to Montreal after a 10-year hiatus in 1996.
Popp was upset that he was relieved of the head coach job after that sub-.500 2007 season. And talks on a new contract dragged out so long after last season that Popp moved his family back to their native North Carolina because he wasn't sure he would be kept on.
Both men denied any problem between them.
"A bump came when he was coaching, that was an emotional time for him, but I was always supportive of Jim," said Smith. "We wanted him to stay in our organization because it was critical for him to be here."
Said Popp: "We've had tremendous success together so I don't know where any of that comes from Larry and I have worked well together.
"You hate to lose an individual like Larry when you know you work well with him, so yeah, it's sad in that degree for me and others. But we've been through this stage before and we worked well with the gentleman we had before."
Smith spent five years as CFL commissioner and oversaw the league's brief, ill-fated expansion to the United States. Before he left that job, he helped the Baltimore Stallions under Popp and owner Jim Speros move to Montreal, where the Alouettes had folded in 1987 due to fan apathy.
Wetenhall took over ownership the following year with Smith as president.
Smith left the job in 2001 to become publisher of the Montreal Gazette and was replaced by Skip Prince, but he returned in 2004.
"The difference is that was a career change and this is a life change," Smith said.
He plans to take a long vacation and then return to take up new interests.
Smith, who played nine seasons as an Alouette from 1972 to 1980, has a son Brad who plays for the Edmonton Eskimos, while his daughter Ashley is married to Alouettes kicker Damon Duval.
As well as his business interests that include a moving company, he is on the board of the Canadian Olympic Committee and is chairman of the Canada Games committee.