TORONTO (CP) - The Toronto Argonauts have locked up their most popular asset.
A league source requesting anonymity said Tuesday the Argos have signed head coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons to a multi-year contract extension and will announce the move Thursday during a news conference at the Rogers Centre. Toronto is also expected to announce that defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler has also re-signed with the CFL club.
Clemons has been a fan favourite in Toronto pretty much since his arrival as a player in 1989. Small by football standards _ five-foot-six and 170 pounds _ Clemons thrilled fans with his ability to bounce off tacklers for extra yards, which was also how he earned his nickname from former Argos head coach Bob O'Billovich.
Off the field, Clemons has always been a tireless worker in the community. His infectious smile and gregarious personality have made him one of Toronto's most popular and recognized sports figures. Clemons is also revered by his players because of his easy-going demeanour and genuine concern for them, first as individuals then as football players.
The Argos have also thrived under Clemons, who turns 41 on Sunday. The club has reached the East Division final the last four years, winning in 2004 en route to capturing its first Grey Cup title since 1997.
Clemons has been a finalist for the Annis Stukus Trophy as the CFL's top coach the last three seasons. He's a favourite again this year after leading Toronto (11-7-0) to top spot in the East Division for the first time since '97.
However, Toronto's quest to repeat as Grey Cup champion ended with a 33-17 upset loss to Montreal in the division final before a Rogers Centre gathering of 44,211 spectators. It was the largest crowd to see an Argos home playoff game since 50,380 watched Toronto beat Winnipeg 42-3 in the '91 East final.
Continuing to put a competitive, entertaining product on the field is crucial to the Argos, who will host the 2007 Grey Cup. Having a Toronto team capable of playing in that contest would certainly boost ticket sales for the first CFL championship game held in the provincial capital since 1992 when Calgary beat Winnipeg 24-10 at SkyDome.
The return of Clemons and Stubler, one of the CFL's most respected defensive minds, further stablizes Toronto's coaching staff. Last year, special-teams coach Marcello Simmons signed a contract extension and last month offensive co-ordinator Kent Austin signed a two-year deal after interviewing with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for their then vacant head-coaching position, which eventually went to Montreal Alouettes assistant Doug Berry.
Offensive line coach Ken Miller is reportedly still negotiating a new deal with the Argos. Miller joined the CFL club in 2002.
But there will be at least one change to Toronto's coaching staff. Running backs coach Perry Marchese isn't expected to return in 2006.
Clemons retired as a player during the 2000 season to become Toronto's head coach after John Huard was fired and compiled a 6-4-0 record. He served as Argos president in 2001, but returned to the field _ for good _ later that season when Gary Etcheverry was fired.
Clemons has compiled a 40-30-1 regular-season record despite having no previous coaching experience prior to taking the job. But the native of Clearwater, Fla., has certainly grown into the position.
An accomplished motivational speaker, Clemons often uses stirring pre-game speeches to get his players into the right frame of mind before games. A peaceful, religious man, Clemons sometimes resorts to slapping tables to get his team into a fever pitch before the kickoff.