2013Feb 15

SPAD Alumni Profile: Marcel Desjardins


SPAD Grad Marcel Desjardins is named as the first-ever General Manager of the expansion Ottawa CFL franchise. (Tony Caldwell/Ottawa Sun)

By SPAD Blogger Brianne Pankoff

As many of you know, SPAD is fortunate enough to have an extensive network of successful alumni. Marcel Desjardins, a SPAD graduate, was recently appointed as the first-ever GM of the new Ottawa CFL franchise. Marcel is a 3-time Grey Cup Champion and has held positions as Assistant GM of the Montreal Alouettes, and GM of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Lucky for readers, Marcel was able to take time out of his busy schedule to share his experiences in his career, and answer a few questions about his new team’s future.

Q: Coming from storied CFL franchises such as Montreal and Hamilton, what are some things you would like to see happen with fans and the city as football returns to Ottawa?  

MD: From a football operations perspective, we will deliver a product on the field that fans can be proud of, reminiscent of the glory of Ottawa’s CFL teams of the 60’s and 70’s.  Although with an expansion franchise, the won/loss record may not be to that level initially, the team will deliver competitiveness and excitement to the fans of the Nation’s Capital.

Q: You have been in the CFL for many years from the league’s head office, to operations, to Assistant GM and GM for the Alouettes and Ti-Cats respectively. What were the most important things you took from these experiences? 

MD: All of my experiences in the CFL have been invaluable.  From an administrative standpoint, my years at the CFL Office were instrumental in giving me a clear understanding of player contracts and the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Players’ Association.  My time in Montreal has allowed me to take this knowledge and enhance it with respect to negotiating and writing contracts.  Montreal also allowed me to develop a eye and a system for scouting players at all levels.  From a philosophical perspective, it is imperative to be proactive in this business in order to make the most informed decisions as opposed to reacting to things as they come up.  I have developed my own philosophy on how to build a team, both on and off the field and what football operations structure works best.

Q: What are some of the challenges you will be facing prior to Ottawa’s opening season in 2014?  

MD: The greatest challenge we face in Ottawa will be building a roster from scratch through the CFL Draft, the Expansion Draft and free agency.  We will be doing a lot of scouting and evaluation of players in the CFL, NFL, CIS and NCAA as well as free agents in order to be in the best position to draft and sign players based on the timelines provided by the CFL.

Q: You are essentially building the organization from the ground-up.  What kind of qualities and people in the sports and business industries do you look for in this process?

MD: I will be looking for staff who are first and foremost quality people.  They will also be skilled and experienced CFL personnel evaluators and administrators.  The people hired in our football operations department will possess the ability to multitask, will have tremendous organizational skills as well as the discipline to work unsupervised.

Q: As a SPAD graduate, what advantages did you have entering the workforce from school with your background in sport business?  Were the CFL and front office always your aspirations, or were there other considerations while at school? 

MD: The biggest advantage I had when I left school and secured a position at the CFL Office was the fact that at that time, the CFL Office employed a number of other former SPAD grads.  In addition, I grew up a fan of the Canadian Football League and since my first position at the CFL Office was as a Communications Assistant, I was well versed in the CFL’s history and current issues.  While at school, my aspirations were to work in sport in some capacity but I was never really focused on any particular sport.  I honestly thought that amateur sport might be the direction I would go in initially but things turned out differently and looking back on it now, I would say it turned out OK.

Q: What would you say is the biggest factor throughout your career that got you to where you are today as GM of the new Ottawa franchise and a 3-time Grey Cup Champion? 

MD: Obviously my experience in the Canadian Football League, both at the league office and at the team level has allowed me to acquire a diverse CFL background that few people possess.  My tenure with the Montreal Alouettes was instrumental in allowing me to learn and grow both as a CFL executive and as a person.

Q: Past, current, and prospective SPAD students can read and learn from your success story.  What professional advice would you offer to such on seeking out internships and careers in the sport industry? 

Marcel & Jeff Hunt

Marcel Desjardins introduced as General Manager by Jeff Hunt, President, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press).

MD: Don’t take shortcuts!  I remember my class/internship as Media Relations Officer for the Sudbury Wolves.  I had to prepare stats and game notes for all 33 homes games plus playoff games in addition to being in attendance for all of these games.  When I look at that experience and the amount of time I put in to get a good grade from that class/internship, versus the time that other students put in to organize a seminar for a few hours, I wondered if it was worth all those hours.  However, I know that I was able to get much more out of that class/internship than others were able to get out of their relatively short project.  In other words, do what you know is right and is going to be the most beneficial to you and your career in the long run versus opting for the easy out – this applies to classes, internships and of course your career.

Marcel will spend the next year assembling the new Ottawa CFL franchise staff and team to take the field on 2014 in their opening season. We here thank him for his time and advice, and wish him the best of luck in his task ahead.

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