MONTREAL — Danny Maciocia’s quality of life has been a lot better this season than in years past with the Montreal Alouettes.
The 56-year-old Maciocia took over as Alouettes general manager in 2020 and worked under a precarious ownership situation until Québécois billionaire Pierre Karl Péladeau bought the team from the CFL in March, saving it from the risk of going defunct.
Fast forward a few months, and the Alouettes, who went 11-7 this season, are days away from hosting a playoff game as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visit for the East Division semifinal on Saturday.
Before the CFL Draft in May, Maciocia said he was sleeping well at night for the first time in two years. Now he’s reaping the benefits of a full season with some good shut-eye.
"It’s interesting when you can get some quality hours of sleep in, how productive you can be when you wake up the next day and you go into work,” Maciocia said Tuesday at Olympic Park. “It's even better than I anticipated, even better than I expected.
“And (after everything) here we are, a few days removed from an Eastern semifinal game at home. There's a sense of gratification."
It’s also paying dividends in his personal life. Maciocia says his family has probably taken notice of his better mood.
"I'm a little bit more approachable, a little bit more engaging, a little bit more sociable,” he said. “Before, I had what I called a 20-minute window when I would get home, you had 20 minutes to get it all in because I was going to bed.
“To work in a sane work environment I think makes all the difference in the world."
Despite the new-found stability under Péladeau, much of the damage had already been done before he took over. Montreal lost starting quarterback Trevor Harris, top wide receiver Eugene Lewis and top defensive player Adarius Pickett, among others, on Feb. 14, the day free agency opened.
Maciocia says he received word that he’d be able to spend some money on the free-agent market mere hours before the window opened. Though he scrambled to make the best of it and signed quarterback Cody Fajardo as his new starter, most pundits had the Alouettes pegged near the bottom of the league going into the season.
CFL.ca had Montreal ranked last in its pre-season power rankings.
“If there was a 10th team, we’d be 10th,” Maciocia joked.
Instead of bottoming out, the Alouettes won 11 games for the first time since 2012, finishing fourth in points for and second in points allowed this season.
Could Maciocia have imagined this type of season?
"In January, I was wondering if the CFL was going to be an eight-team league," he said.
But by the time things had settled and the Alouettes were well into training camp, Maciocia was impressed with some signings from south of the border — receivers Austin Mack and Tyler Snead, to name a couple — and the work of new head coach Jason Maas, who he hired in December.
"You start believing that there may be something here, there just may be something brewing that's positive," he said. "I think it gave everybody a little spring in their step after that training camp saying, 'Hey, we can feel pretty good about ourselves here.'"
Of all the moves that have contributed to the team’s success this season, Maciocia calls hiring Maas his best.
He believes Maas is a strong candidate for the CFL coach of the year award for taking a team that underwent full-scale changes this winter to where it is today.
"We didn't even have any players, we didn't even know who the owner was going to be, we didn't have a team president. To see where we are today, through his hard work and the staff that he's assembled, he's gone beyond expectations," Maciocia said of Maas. "He's definitely a strong consideration for coach of the year, just because of the factors that normally coaches don't put up with, he's had to deal with."
As for some of the new signings, Mack was fifth in the league with 1,154 receiving yards in 17 games, Snead tied for the team lead with five touchdown receptions, and cornerback Kabion Ento and Kordell Rogers played important roles in the team’s stifling defence.
Maciocia also landed veteran Shawn Lemon earlier in the season to bolster Montreal’s defensive line.
In 13 games, the 34-year-old Lemon had nine sacks, 26 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble.
For that reason, Maas sent the credit the other way.
"To go from GM last year to coaching the team midway through the year, bringing a team to the playoffs, giving up that duty, hiring somebody and then going out and getting the players he has,” said Maas of Maciocia. "He's built such a great culture and I think he's done just a tremendous job as a GM for this team."
Maciocia is hoping this season can be the first step in a few years of sustained success.
Although Montreal lost all seven of its games against the league's top three teams, he believes there's only a small gap between them and the CFL's best. He believes continuity is what separates them.
"This is a little bit of a first time around the block for all of us collectively," he said. "In professional sports you need to go through some stuff and witness some scenarios as an organization, as a staff, as an individual."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2023.
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press