was fired by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats because they did not reach their potential.
Bellefeuille took over from Charlie Taaffe on September 8, 2008 on an interim basis and had the interim tag removed in October of that year. In his three full seasons with the Tiger-Cats, Bellefeuille guided Hamilton to two second-place finishes and three playoff appearances, winning this year's East Division Semi-Final against Montreal.
I have already freely admitted that I was torn on whether the team should retain Bellefeuille. I felt that in winning the Semi-Final in Montreal he had done enough to warrant a fourth season as Head Coach, but I guess the Ti-Cats brass, and specifically General Manager Bob O'Billovich, did not feel the same way.
Two names have already been thrown around as potential replacements: Defensive Coordinator Corey Chamblin and Calgary Offensive Coordinator Dave Dickenson.
I don't really like either rumoured candidate. Both have exactly one year of Coordinator experience and would bring with them the same growing pains that all rookie coaches bring. They could both turn out to be excellent Head Coaches, but the same was thought of Bellefeuille when he was hired and now he's unemployed. Basically, when it comes to first-time Head Coaches, you just never know.
If the Cats made this move to take the next step – as O'Billovich said in his statement following the decision – then they must bring in an experienced coach, because that is the only way this move makes sense. I don't necessarily mean a coach with Head Coaching experience, but one that has more than a single year's experience would make sense. If the Cats choose to hire another young, up-and-coming Coordinator, that would be a lateral move. We don't even know if Dickenson or Chamblin are good at their current jobs, so a promotion might be premature.
One man I think the Tiger-Cats should seriously look at is Winnipeg Defensive Coordinator Tim Burke. Burke has been to the last four Grey Cups as a Defensive Coordinator (with Montreal in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and Winnipeg in 2011), winning with the Als in 2009 and 2010. He turned Winnipeg into arguably (and maybe inarguably) the best Defense in the CFL in 2011.
The expectations will be high for whomever the Tabbies pick as their next Head Coach. Those expectations were not in place when Bellefeuille took the job back in 2008. The team will need to be sure that the next man to lead the Cats is prepared to deal with sky-high expectations from Day 1. The talent is here, so a Grey Cup run in 2012 is not at all out of the question. Who will lead the team now is.
But let's not forget what Marcel Bellefeuille accomplished in Hamilton during his three-plus years as Head Coach. He took a terrible franchise – one that won 15 games in four seasons – and returned it to respectability. That, in itself, is something worth remembering.
The Bellefeuille Era did not result in a championship parade or even a division title, but it did result in pride being restored to Tiger-Cat football, pride not felt in a long time. Hamilton became a team to be feared and respected, and that wasn't the case before Bellefeuille took over.
His inability to take the Cats to the promised land ultimately cost him his job, but he did make Tiger-Cat football important again, and for that he should be thanked.