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The Three Amigos are together once again.
The Toronto Argonauts hired Steve Buratto as their offensive co-ordinator Tuesday, re-uniting Buratto with general manager Adam Rita and defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler. The three were last with the B.C. Lions in 2000, the year they became the first sub-.500 franchise in CFL history to capture the Grey Cup.
Buratto, a 26-year CFL coaching veteran, takes over as Toronto's offensive co-ordinator from Rita, the Argos general manager who assumed the job after Kent Austin was fired last August.
"I know it was a difficult decision for Steve," Rita said. "He hasn't ever been East before and it probably would've been easier for him to stay out West.
"But the ties he has with the people here put him in a comfort area that made it easier for him and his wife to decide to come to Toronto."
But Rita and Buratto go further back than 2000. The two first met while coaching at Boise State in the early 1970s.
Stubler sat with Buratto's wife, Judy, during Tuesday's announcement while Rita, Buratto and Argos head coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons addressed the media.
Buratto, 63, was fired as the Calgary Stampeders offensive co-ordinator following the club's 30-21 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division final. But Buratto left the decision of what team he'd work for next to his wife, who suffers from macular degeneration and is legally blind.
She also shattered both legs in a car accident three years ago and continues to deal with those injuries.
Buratto declined an offer to become the Edmonton Eskimos offensive co-ordinator last week, but Judy Buratto said the presence of so many familiar faces in Toronto made the decision to join the Argos a relatively easy one.
"It was the people," she said with a warm smile.
Steve Buratto had said whatever coaching job he took would be his last. He re-iterated that Tuesday when discussing his surprising ouster from Calgary, one which left many believing he was made the scapegoat for the club's disappointing playoff loss.
"I think it's pretty obvious, yeah," Buratto said. "But we didn't win that game and they decided they needed to make a change in the direction the offence would go . . . that's their choice.
"It's part of the game. It's not the first time (Buratto has been fired) but it will be the last."
Calgary's playoff loss tarnished an outstanding season for the Stampeders, especially the club's stellar offence. The unit led the CFL in total yards (382 per game) and rushing (134 yards per game) and was second in scoring (25.4 points per game).
Quarterback Henry Burris also thrived under Buratto, finishing first in the CFL in touchdown passes with 23 and third in passing yards with 4,453 yards.
Buratto's offence in Calgary was imaginative and used numerous formations and schemes to confuse opposing defences and create mismatches like having a running back line up as a slotback and leaving a linebacker with the unenviable task of providing pass coverage.
But Buratto takes over an Argos offence that sputtered last year.
Despite the presence of former NFL rushing champion Ricky Williams and quarterback Damon Allen - the CFL's outstanding player last year - Toronto finished the regular season ranked seventh in scoring (16.7 points per game), total yards (285 yards) and last in passing (216 yards).
Williams is expected to return to the NFL next season, leaving oft-injured John Avery and Canadians Jeff Johnson and Bryan Crawford in the backfield. Slotback Arland Bruce III (77 catches, 1,370 yards, 11 TDs) is a bona fide star, as is receiver Tony Miles, who had 91 catches in 2005 but dropped to 53 this year while battling injuries.
"Mostly, it was a hit-and-miss thing," Buratto said of Toronto's offence. "They tried to do some things but they didn't settle on being anything.
"Then Damon got hurt and two receivers got hurt and they had a whole bunch of things go sideways that detracted from that."
The question remains, though, who will be Toronto's quarterback?
Allen isn't under contract for next season and backup Michael Bishop will play in the Arena Football League this off-season. Trouble is, the AFL playoffs run into July, meaning the Argos can't rely on Bishop being their starter.
The only other quarterback under contract is sophomore Eric Crouch.
Toronto is reportedly interested in Casey Printers but can't talk to the 2004 CFL MVP because he's with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. The B.C. Lions own Printers' CFL rights, but only until Dec. 15, after which Printers would become a free agent. However, it's worth noting Buratto coached Printers in B.C.
Allen, 43, attended Tuesday's news conference and said he wants to return to Toronto next season. If he did come back, Allen, too, would have some familiarity with Buratto. Allen was the Lions' starter in their 2000 Grey Cup championship win.
"He's a very good coach," Allen said of Buratto. "It's very important with teams getting better personnel-wise . . . you like the fact that you have veteran coaches who've been around the game a long time, understand it and continue to grow with it.
"You have to believe what he did over in Calgary will hopefully expand to what we do here. We had to assume we will see some of his imagination."