New York Jets General Manager Candidate: Jim Popp

Jeff Vinnick

Probably the most outside the box name to emerge from the general manager search has been Jim Popp, currently the general manager of the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes. He has been with their franchise since 1994 after a two year stint as a position coach and Director of Player Personnel with the Saskatchwan Roughriders. He had been an assistant coach in American colleges before that. He also had a brief stint working with former Jets head coach Walt Michaels trying to get a new league off the ground.

Popp is the only general manager the franchise has ever known. Believe it or not, the Alouettes were originally based in Baltimore. There was a point in the 1990's where the Canadian Football League put franchises in the United States. Originally called the Baltimore CFL Colts, a lawsuit by the NFL team forced them to change their name. Popp put together a roster that took the first year expansion team into the league's Grey Cup Championship Game. The next year, Baltimore won it, giving Canadian football its only American based champion. When the Browns moved to Baltimore, the franchise was forced to move to Montreal.

This franchise has had an incredible run of success under Popp's leadership. The Baltimore/Montreal franchise has won four Grey Cups and been to ten title games. They have been in the Playoffs every year. He had two brief stints as head coach of the franchise.

The CFL is not a league where you find frontline talent. That generally goes to the NFL. To succeed in Canada, you have to be able to find talent under the radar. Popp has done that extremely well. Names I give like Anthony Calvillo probably won't mean anything to you, but rest assured Popp has had one of the best eyes for talent in football. Like any professional general manager, he has had to assemble a team. He has had to do so within the confines of a salary cap. He has had even greater limitations than NFL general managers, though, because of the talent not available to him and rules that limit the number of American players he can put on his roster. He really has been forced to prioritize as a result.

How has Popp built a model franchise in Montreal? This article gives a hint.

His first step is surrounding himself with good, competent people in whom he has a ton of confidence and doesn’t worry about them doing so well they usurp him. On his staff right now he has three former CFL GMs — Mike McCarthy, Marcel Desjardins and Alan Ford — who, for what it’s worth, are all former managers of the Ticats.

You scout like crazy, draft good guys and then develop players within the organization so when guys go down with injuries or move on, you have pieces that can be plugged in and mesh with the chemistry of the dressing room. You look at the quality of the person as much as the quality of the athlete. Free agency has its place but isn’t a cure-all.

“If those people don’t gel together, it’s going to affect winning and losing,” he says.

You create as much stability as possible in a business that’s far from stable. You have the same owner since 1997, the same GM since 1996 and the same quarterback since 1998.

....

McCarthy chalks that up to a scouting system that he says is miles — or kilometres — ahead of other CFL teams. The way Montreal creates reports on players is modelled after NFL teams’ systems. A big part of that is concentrating on a bunch of likely candidates rather than everyone in the NCAA and providing regular scouting updates so proper decisions can be made.

Sounds good, right?

I think there are a few concerns with somebody like Popp. First is the lack of NFL experience. He has never worked in the league. While he has an eye for talent, there are simply different qualities needed in players in the Canadian and American games. At the risk of overgeneralizing, speed is at a greater premium and size less so in the Canadian league. The field is a lot bigger, teams only have three downs to get a first down instead of four, and the game is more wide open. Because of the bigger field, quarterbacks tend to be more mobile and need less arm strength to zip it into tight windows. The overall talent level is much better in the NFL. You would hope Popp wouldn't be looking at the same players in the NFL that he would in the CFL.

These are risks I would be comfortable with the Jets taking, though. It's a heck of a lot easier for somebody with an eye for under the radar talent to learn how to see elite talent than it is for somebody to learn how to find under the radar talent. Popp might bring in some of his Montreal people who could adapt to the NFL, but you would also hope he would have some seasoned NFL hands in his front office as well to lean on, and I'm not talking about Terry Bradway.

I'm sure some people would make fun of the Jets for bringing in an executive from the CFL. We would get plenty of jokes about how Popp feels at home with all the CFL talent on the Jets roster. He is a legend in Canada, though, because he has shown he has the vision and the ability to put together a wildly successful franchise. I would welcome him to the Jets.

I don't care about hearsay when it comes to picking the general manager. If some people in the league like Scott Cohen or Brian Gaine, that's great. What I want is a demonstrated track record of excellence. That's what we have here.

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