Let’s start first with the head coach Jim Barker. He was dismissed in Montreal and Calgary, and 5 times in the American colleges. Barker was not the first choice for Toronto. Alouette’s offence Coordinator Scott Milanovich turns down the offer. Considering the Argos circumstances, potential head-coaches may not have rushed for the job. I must say Jim Barker is a competent coach. However, he is a coach the Toronto Sun describes as a "gambler". In my opinion, the Argonauts need stability the most. Toronto needs to rebuild the team on a solid base and not repeating the mistakes of the past.
What are the mistakes of past?
Last year, Toronto attempted to imitate Montreal by hiring a coach from the NFL, Bart Andrus. Like Marc Trestman, he too is an offence genius, but with no CFL experience. The comparison stops here. Why did Montreal experience success (15-3) and not Toronto (3-15)? Some of Marc Trestman’s staff had CFL experience. While Bart Andrus, who chose his entire staff, had only one, Steve Burrato. Trestman’s passing attack style was already close to the CFL game. He had to adapt his «West Coast» passing attack to the CFL. Being offense NFL genius doesn't mean much since its two different types of football. If a coach lacks humility and imposes his NFL offensive style, it will have very little success. Bart should have adapted his offensive to a one-dimensional quarterback like Kerry Joseph (Bombers, Mike Kelly, had the same attitude to impose a running attack with disastrous results in the CFL). How could the Argonaut’s organization make such an error of judgment?
Skipping steps is never good in the long run
The CFL team takes the time to properly train young players, especially in the case of quarterbacks. Generally speaking, there are more successes with college rookies than NFL veterans. Historically, few former NFL quarterbacks did very well in the CFL. The last one I believe was Doug Flutie. In Toronto, for some strange reason, they skipped the steps. They prefer this magic formula. ‘’All problems will be resolved if you bring lots of hype with former NFL players’’. The truth is, very few became saviors. No doubt they are great athletes but as all the others, they must earn their job and many do not. Remember Bethel Johnson, only 189 passing yards. Mike McMahon, a former Eagles quarterback, is another example. In his first game he was 6/18 for a total of 57 yards. In his second and last game against Montreal he was 0/12! When Anthony Calvillo couldn’t play for a long period, neither Jesse Palmer nor Mike McMahon, who had joined the Alouettes(two former NFLers), were good enough to start a single game. Remember "Quincy" Carter 5 or 6 years ago. He was not good enough to be Montreal’s forth quarterback.
The Argos quarterbacks
We would have thought that the Argos have learned a lesson from the past. The two NFLers, Ken Dorsey and Gibran Hamdan, as well as, Cleo Lemon, Dalton Bell and Canadian Danny Brannagan all have no CFL experience. It’s been said in the past few years that Ken Dorsey was most often used in desperate situations. The stats don’t pay him justice. Maybe it’s true. But history shows that few NFL quarterbacks have been very successful in the CFL. While shaping these new guys, as a precautionary measure, the Argos should have gotten at least one or two QBs with CFL experience. Did the Argos try a trade with B.C. for Jarious Jackson? Neither Michael Bishop, nor young Ricky Santos released by Winnipeg. Maybe the Argos are waiting that the Lions release Jackson? Or, hoping for the return of Jeff Garcia to the CFL, who knows? But above all, they are dreaming of a transaction with Montreal for Adrian McPherson. The Alouettes will want an arm and a leg for him.
How can we explain the Toronto choices?
Probably the Argos believe that these two former NFL quarterbacks will fit well in the CFL. There are always exceptions to rules after all. This is not new. Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers came to get the Alouette’s 4th quarterback Tyler Palko, who was just released. Last may, the Greenbay Pakers did the same with Saskatchewan’s Graham Harrell. Teams sometimes focus on players that they believe will fit well in their game play. But for an American to go back to the NFL, that is not a problem, he’s been playing that type of football all his life. But for an American who has never been exposed to CFL field, rules and rhythm is huge, especially for quarterbacks. The more time a quarterback spends in the NFL, the less he’ll be able to adapt to the CFL. It took two years for Casey Printers to gain CFL reflexes. However, wisdom dictates that it is almost suicidal to begin a season without a quarterback with CFL experience.
The Argos concession drop
Aside from the examples given above, other factors contribute to their fragility. The Toronto bad press over the past years. The NFL threat in Canada. Until now, results are very disappointing. In 3 NFL games, around 54,000 tickets were given, and others sold at a reduced price, with no full house and the fans attendance was very poor. But sadly, many Toronto media do not focus too much on the NFL disappointments, but much more on the good news of this foreign type of football. It seems they keep the worst and nasty critics to the last truly Canadian sport in Canada. So generally speaking, poor Argos performance in the Skydome is much worst than a poor NFL game in the very same stadium. Unjustly it will take only one good NFL game in Toronto to erase all the bad ones. It is doubtfully the same treatment that will be given to the Argonauts. So this is what the CFL concession in Toronto face every day. There is very little margin for error for the Argos. Sadly they made a lot of errors these past years. For too long, the Argos have relied on their defensive and special team to win games. They have neglected the offensive, and particularly the quarterbacks. The Argos are in a reconstruction phase, will the fans be patient? Season ticket sales have greatly diminished so far. Should the Argos distribute free tickets too? The game in Moncton is a bad sign for Toronto, maybe a wake up call. The loss of Toronto’s market will hurt our football. For the CFL’s 100th year anniversary in 2012, the Grey Cup game may be played in the Skydome. Will Toronto have a CFL concession then? Maybe this explains the CFL’s hesitation to confirm this news? Not all is bad news; the new Argonaut’s owner is very devoted to the CFL.
(Base on an article that I wrote in French at RDS)