Saying he couldn’t affect the team enough to win a game, Don Matthews, the top-winning head coach in Canadian Football League history, has resigned as head coach of the Toronto Argonauts Friday
“I’m going to step down and let somebody take it from here,” Matthews said. “My time has come.
“Armed with that knowledge I’m going to go back to Oregon and back into retirement and rejoin the unemployed,” he said speaking emotionally and sprinkling in some humour.
Matthews took over from rookie head coach Rich Stubler, who was fired after a 4-6 record and with the team in second place in the East Division, and failed to win all eight games he coached and the team missed qualifying for the post-season for the first time since the 2001 season.
Matthews leads the CFL with 231 regular-season wins and racked up five Grey Cup championships in a career that began with B.C. in 1983 after winning five consecutive Cups as defensive coordinator of the Edmonton Eskimos. He coached the Argos in 1990 and returned six years later and coached the team to back-to-back Grey Cup wins.
But it was the inability to win, the very thing he prided himself on in his career, that convinced him it was time to quit.
“I didn’t affect them enough to win a game,” he said. “We all have our own standards and my standards are higher.”
Matthews said he been thinking of resigning following Thursday night’s 45-38 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders at the Rogers Centre. He informed the team at a final meeting Friday and shortly after told the media.
Matthews, 69, expressed satisfaction at being able to return to coaching after an anxiety disorder forced him to leave abruptly as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes with four games to go in 2006. No explanation was given for his sudden departure. It was only after returning to coaching again in September when given the opportunity by Argo general manager Adam Rita, his longtime friend, that he publicly revealed his anxiety disorder. He said a medication helped to keep the disorder in check, but the true test would come once he started going through the rigours of coaching. He indicated his health held up, but he just didn’t have the desire to put in the long hours every day that coaching required.
“Football is so time consuming,” he said. “I’m not prepared to put my life on hold.”
At that point Matthews, who was at peace with his decision, cracked a joke.
“I did it my way right to the end,” he said. “Isn’t there a song like that?”
He said he believes the team is in good shape and praised Argo owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski, whom he said were passionate about the Argos and want to do everything to win.
He also praised Rita for giving him the opportunity to coach again.
“That’s something I’ll remember for a long time,” he said.
He added Rita asked him if they could talk about his decision.
“I self evaluated and made this decision on my own,” Matthews said. “I reflected on it (Thursday night) and called my wife this morning and she said, ‘Good, the dog just s–t on the floor.’ He must have known.”
Matthews said even if he had won some games with the Argos he would have resigned anyway.
“Colour me toasted. I’ve had a long and very successful career,” he added. “I’m very thankful to come back and get involved.”
He also praised offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto, another longtime friend for his work.
“He was a much maligned offensive co-ordinator,” he said. “He made (quarterback) Kerry Joseph into a way better player.”
Joseph said ealier in the day before Matthews’ announcement that he’s looking forward to coming back next season and “taking (the team) where it needs to go.”
Joseph, who struggled for most of the season and was benched for two games by Matthews, also praised Buratto for his work.
“He just got us into a groove,” he said.
Joseph had a career high five touchdown passes in a single game in the loss to the Roughriders.
Calgary Stampeders’ offensive co-ordinator George Cortez and Saskatchewan defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall are likely the frontrunners to replace Matthews, but other candidates could Turner Gill, the head coach of the Buffalo Bills of the Mid-American Conference and Bulls’ offensive co-ordinator Danny Barrett, who spent several seasons as the head coach of the Roughriders.