Forget last season’s 5-13 record, and the abysmal attendance, throwing away the unique opportunity of making year one at outdoor, close-to-downtown BMO Field something to build on.
Forget releasing three impact receivers in the first week of October, who instantly signed elsewhere. Forget pulling the trigger on the worst trade the CFL has seen since Ricky Ray was traded for a kicker and cap space and a partridge in a pear tree.
And forget that the franchise is now no longer in the ‘Big Four’ in the marketplace, its relevance — and attendance — a distant fifth in the city, after Toronto FC sold out games quicker than you could dial up Pizza Pizza.
Set all of that aside for a moment, because Tuesday was the moment it became clear just how lost the Toronto Argonauts decision-makers are, with the timing of their latest move: firing general manager Jim Barker.
You can build quite a case to part ways with the GM: that 5-13 stain, being fleeced by Winnipeg in the Drew Wily deal, poor free-agent signings (Bourke, Joshua comes to mind), the rest. As a matter of fact, in November I was told by someone with knowledge of the situation that Argos ownership — those CEO Michael Copeland reports to — had "lost faith" in Barker’s ability to run the operation.
November. A month after the team’s season was toast, for all intents and purposes.
This was the organization’s chance. While other teams were in the playoffs, the Argos could get a head start on 2017. Do their reviews, and due diligence and whatever other buzzwords they wanted to pick, but to go find the next one. Head coach Scott Milanovich figured he was done, and let his staff know as much.
But then November turned to December, and then the holidays, and the coaching carousel did its thing with movement league-wide. Montreal made its moves, and Hamilton had a shuffle, Winnipeg lost its offensive line coach and Toronto was standing pat. Barker remained, Milanovich was told nothing and by mid-January, as the rules of engagement go, the window to pluck assistant coaches from other teams became all but shut.
The issue is not dismissing Barker. The issue is the timing. The issue is wasting almost four months of an elongated off-season — one that began with a bare-chested Kevin Elliott stumbling into the coaches train car on the way home from a drubbing in Montreal before Thanksgiving — and now searching for a new general manager, knowing full well that even if Barker’s successor doesn’t want to keep Milanovich around, he may have to out of necessity.
At a time where movement among coaches is quite sensitive in the league office — remember Alouettes defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe was blocked from going to Edmonton last winter — the chances that teams will allow their own staffers to bolt in February becomes more and more unlikely. Firing Milanovich is easy. Hiring his replacement, the same. But filling out the staff with quality CFL assistants becomes near impossible.
There will be buzz of Jim Popp coming in as the next Argos GM, that he and Milanovich worked together in Montreal and can revive some of the Alouettes magic. Rick Pitino will tell you that Marc Trestman and Anthony Calvillo aren’t walking through that door, and nor will Popp to Toronto. Not in 2017 anyway.
Firing Barker now shows just how unaware the Argos leadership is in running a football operation. Instead of having a significant head start on next season, they’re now far behind rest of the league. Another major loss, and this is before they even put a football on the tee.