MONTREAL â€” Catherine Raiche may be the only woman working in football operations in the CFL, but the Montreal native is more focused on helping the Alouettes win games than blazing a trail.
Raiche and football veteran Joe Mack were named assistant general managers of the Alouettes on Wednesday, with 62-year-old Mack handling player personnel and 27-year-old Raiche in charge of football operations.
While the defunct Ottawa Roughriders broke ground by naming Jo-Anne Polak as GM in 1988, the football side of the CFL had been all male since then until new GM Kavis Reed turned to Raiche to help get the struggling Alouettes back on track.
“I don’t focus a lot on gender,” Raiche said. “If it can be an opening or something that will help other women pursue their dreams in sports or football or whatever, that’s great, but I’m more focused on what I can bring to the team and how my background can help us bring a championship to Montreal.”
Raiche put a promising career in corporate and tax law on hold when she joined the Alouettes in 2015. As co-ordinator of football administration last season, her duties included tracking the salary cap, negotiating contracts and handling team travel.
In her new position, she’ll delegate the travel work and be more involved in contracts and cap management as well as attending league meetings and overseeing various departments.
She won’t only handle the business side of things.
“I was at the Shrine Bowl, I’m involved in the draft,” she said. “I’ll do some scouting as well, but my main focus will be on the day to day operations.
“It’s just part of it. When you start meeting with the scouts, they talk about players, who they want to sign, how much you want to pay that guy, so you need to know your football. You need to be out there, to make contacts and to see players. So I will definitely be out there as well, but not as much as a scout.”
There are not a lot of women in football operations generally. In the NFL, Dawn Aponte handled negotiations and salary cap duties with the Miami Dolphins from 2010 to 2016, while Katie Blackburn, the daughter of owner Mike Brown, does the same as executive vice-president of the Cleveland Browns.
A breakthrough came a year ago when Kathryn Smith became the NFL’s first female coach when she was named special teams quality control coach of the Buffalo Bills.
“Obviously, people see a gender difference, but if you are good at what you do and you do things right, I don’t see it as being negative or anything,” said Raiche. “Down the road it’s going to be a non-event if you’re a man or a woman.
“If you win football games, you win football games, you know what I mean?”
Raiche, a lifelong fan of the sport, had hoped to become a player agent, but then saw she could get as much job satisfaction working for team. She approached the Alouettes thinking that if it didn’t work out she could always go back to law.
“I’ll always be thankful that they took a chance on me,” she said. “I had no football background and it just ended up working super-well.
“You want to have that feeling that you get up in the morning and go to work and it doesn’t feel like work. It just feels like you love what you do. You want to put in the hours because you just love it. That’s what I found in football that I did not completely have in pure law. So I’m blessed, I’m thankful and I’m happy.”
The Alouettes are clearly thrilled with Raiche.
“We are fully satisfied to be able to count on such accomplished and qualified people to head up our football operations and player personnel departments,” Reed said in a statement. “Catherine has a great understanding of the business and has rapidly proved that she is ready to take on greater responsibilities, while Joe’s invaluable experience is a welcome addition to our scouting staff.”
Mack will manage the player personnel and scouting departments. He first worked in the CFL with Winnipeg in 1984 and returned to the Blue Bombers in 2010 as GM and vice-president of football operations.
He has also worked in the NFL for Atlanta, Washington, Carolina and Cleveland.
Mack’s experience can only help Reed, a first time GM who replaced Jim Popp on Dec. 14.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press