Pivotal decision

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

How do you find the right time and the right words to say thanks and goodbye?

These are the emotions the Argonauts wrestle with every day, their owners and their front office, their general manager and their coach, internally and externally: When is the right time to tell Damon Allen you don't want him anymore?

This isn't a normal parting of athlete and team.

This is personal.This is family. This is exceedingly difficult.

When the Argos were eliminated in the CFL East final and for the second consecutive playoff game found themselves switching quarterbacks, it was apparent the time had come for Allen and the Argos to part ways.

Only no one wanted to say that.

Allen wanted time. It was all too soon, the Argos whispered.

Give it a few weeks. We'll make a decision.

A few weeks came and a few weeks passed and still no decision. We can't make a decision now, they whispered. Damon's wife, Desiree, is about to give birth. We need to give them time and space.

The baby boy was born in November. The Argos are still uncertain about their quarterbacking. The calendar continues to move, the dance of the uncomfortable continues.

We can't make any decision now, the voices say. It's too close to Christmas. You don't want to spoil anybody's Christmas.

So here we are. With Damon Allen still wanting to play football -- maybe still capable of playing football -- just not the quarterback the Argos want to start in an upcoming season they hope ends with their appearance in the 2007 Grey Cup game at Rogers Centre.

Not long ago they thought they could live with Allen for one more run. Pinball Clemons loves to use the Satchel Paige analogy when it comes to Allen. He's not getting older, he's getting better.

Allen's playoff inability should have ended that belief.

But there's even more to the difficulty of letting go of the all-time record breaking quarterback in professional football history. Never mind that he won a Grey Cup for Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon in their first season as CFL owners. Never mind that he was named Most Outstanding Player in their second season.

There is a friendship here that goes deeper than Arland Bruce on a fly pattern. The Argos may be the most unique franchise in all of professional sport because Clemons happens to be the coach.

Clemons breaks all the rules, all the stereotypes: He doesn't necessarily coach football every day but he does coach life. He develops deep friendships with players. He socializes with some players away from the field.

He and Damon Allen are close friends. From what I'm told, the families are friends. They go out together, socialize together.

That can be bonding for a football team that's winning. But it can be painful, certainly personally, when the pragmatic decisions of your employment -- Pinball, after all, is paid to win -- get in the way of your life.

It's happened before with the Argos. Pinball will tell you the most difficult thing he's ever had to do in football was tell Mookie Mitchell, face to face, that he was cutting him.

Mitchell has gone to play successfully ever since for the Edmonton Eskimos.

The Allen situation is far more delicate. The Grey Cup Allen won in Toronto was also the validation and confirmation of Pinball as a head coach. That can't and won't be forgotten.

It just adds to the complexity of the decision making process.

Four years ago, without much emotion, Wally Buono decided he wanted Dave Dickenson and didn't want Allen with the B.C. Lions anymore. Some people thought Buono handled the situation coldly -- but that's how he and most football coaches do their jobs.

They squeeze the lemon until they believe there is no more juice, then discard it without a second thought.

The Argos play with emotion, coach with emotion, make determinations with emotion. This isn't your typical football team. And this isn't your typical football decision.

But it must be done and it won't be easy on anyone.


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