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Alouettes legend opens up about coaching future, learning French and new book

Anthony Calvillo holds the all-time record for passing yards in the CFL, is a three-time Grey Cup winner and now has several years under his belt as a football coach, but he’s not done embracing new challenges.

He has a new book called “Le Passeur” (French for “The Passer”).

The book, which is available only in French for now, touches on the Montreal Alouettes legend’s illustrious football career as well as his off-the-field challenges.

In 2007, his wife was diagnosed with cancer. A few years later, Calvillo had his thyroid removed after tests results revealed some cancer cells.

The book is also a chance for the Alouettes’ current quarterbacks coach to revisit a topic he has spoken a lot about in recent years — the physical abuse his mother endured at the hands of his father.

CBC Montreal’s Jay Turnbull sat down with Calvillo to talk about his new book, whether he sees himself as the Alouettes’ next head coach and his desire to learn the French language.

The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Danny Maciocia, the team’s general manager, stepped in as coach during the season and he’s made it clear that he’s not going to be coaching next year. The hunt is on for a new coach. Would you like to be the new coach of the Montreal Alouettes?

I think it’s a natural progression for any coach to work their way up. I had the same attitude when I played as a player. So now it’s the same thought process that one day, if I’ve earned that right to get an interview and hopefully become a head coach, that’s great. But at the end of the day, I don’t think about it every night. I just want to make sure that I’m involved with the team in some capacity.

A lot of players from the U.S, they spend their careers here and they move back. What is it about Montreal that has kept you here?

I found my beautiful wife here (laughs). I think that’s a big part of it. Also, I see what type of city this is. It’s a very safe city. There’s a lot of culture here and I want my kids to learn as many languages as possible.

You’re trying to learn French. Why is that important for you? 

I’ve lived here in Montreal for a lot of years but it was not a priority for me to learn another language. But now, my priorities have changed. [Learning French] is very important to me. I’ve been taking classes at Université de Montréal. I had a tutor and I met with them three times per week for an hour and a half. So, I’m building a foundation and I continue to practise speaking French with my family, the other coaches on the team and the players too. I need to get better because it’s still difficult to understand each word when I have conversations with others.

WATCH | Calvillo explains challenge of learning French as a pro athlete: 

X 31DE CAS TURNBULL CALVILLO 20221124052327 frame 43230.jpg?crop=1

Learning French during playing career was difficult, Calvillo says

Anthony Calvillo explains why it was difficult for him to learn French during his playing career.

Why did you think it was time to write a book about your past?

I normally do a lot of public speaking, whether it’s with other companies or going to schools. I always get a great response from people. People tell me “thank you for sharing your story.” And it’s not just the football aspect of it, but, you know, the fact that, you know, my wife and I went through cancer. I talk about the domestic violence that occurred in our household between my mom and my dad. And even though a lot of times people fall into that same cycle, because that’s all they knew growing up, I knew that I did not want that.

We just felt that one day we would like to put this in the book so it could reach other people that maybe are going through something that’s similar that could help them get through it in that particular time.

So you’ve opened up about this before. Was it any different to put it into a book?

Well, it does bring back a lot of memories, especially when you’re talking about the time when you hear the word cancer, when the doctor sits you down and tells your wife after she just gave birth to our second daughter, “Hey, we found a large mass in your chest.” The same thing when we’re talking about domestic violence.

As we were writing the book, you continue to think about what you saw and and and it just brings back a lot of emotions. I was always a very reserved person. That’s the way I was brought up. I was taught to keep everything to yourself and you deal with it. And as I started to get older, I realized it’s not the healthiest thing. You have to be able to share these things with people that you trust. And I feel very comfortable talking about my journey.

WATCH | Calvillo explains the importance of opening up about past:


It’s never too late to deal with your past, Calvillo says

Montreal Alouettes legend Anthony Calvillo talks about the people who influenced him to become more open, which led him to speaking publicly about the domestic violence he witnessed as a child.

So many people go through or witness what you saw as a child and they don’t make it to your stage. The cycle continues. How were you able to to break that cycle?

Jim Zorn, my college coach, was the one that kind of planted this seed in terms of telling me “Anthony, listen you saw something growing up. You don’t have to do the exact same thing. You can make a choice to change that.” And that really has always stood out in my mind because I knew deep in my heart that I didn’t want to have that experience for my wife or for myself or for my kids. And what I tell people,  including our players, is that no matter what you’re dealing with now, if there’s something that’s deeply rooted in you that you want to fix, it’s never too late. It’s never too late to make a change. You just gotta go ask for help.

What were some of the worst things you saw with your relationship with your parents?

It was the sound. It was being in one room and all of a sudden, just hearing, thumping, screaming, yelling. As a young kid you couldn’t do anything about it because you were just too small. And then, once it was over, the house was quiet. It was just quiet for about three or four days. All of a sudden, they start talking and things are back to normal and it’s like it was no big deal.

We had great times as a family as well. We would go camping, do fun things, but then every once in a while my dad would have too much to drink and all of a sudden it just became chaotic.

How did it affect your relationship with your father?

Over the years we tried to build a relationship — like years and years after. He had changed his life around and we tried to change and try to get back into a relationship but it just didn’t work out.

As a son, you’re always afraid of getting that phone call that “Hey, your dad’s sick. He’s about to pass away.” And I did everything in my power to try to mend that relationship. Eventually, we got the call and, you know, I shed a tear. He was our father. But I just felt that I did everything in my power to reconnect with him and unfortunately that did not happen.

If you’re a victim of domestic violence and in immediate danger, call 911. If you need help, SOS violence conjugale is a province-wide toll-free crisis line, available 24/7, TTY compatible

You can reach them at 1-800-363-9010 by phone, or via text at 438-601-1211 You can also look for information on SOS’s new website.

For resources elsewhere in Canada, click here.

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