Argonauts GM Jim Barker deserves praise — and an extension

Argonauts general manager Jim Barker celebrates the team's Grey Cup victory at the Rogers Centre in...

Argonauts general manager Jim Barker celebrates the team's Grey Cup victory at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., Nov. 25, 2012. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:43 PM ET

TORONTO - The celebration had come to an end with the man who made everything possible not saying a word.

Imagine the Maple Leafs having Stanley Cup celebration and Brian Burke silent?

Well, neither of those things are, in fact, possible or probable, but understand the sentiment.

The champions of the 100th Grey Cup were paraded and cheered in front of the largest Argo parade crowd in more than two decades, after a Grey Cup Week that exceeded any and all expectations, after a championship season no one saw coming, and there was Jim Barker on the stage and no microphone for him to speak into, no moment to soak in the applause he deserves.

What happened in Toronto over the past year, over the past week, was truly remarkable. The Grey Cup festivities, for the first time in this city that I can remember, felt like a Grey Cup in Winnipeg or Edmonton or a place where it does annually matter. It felt Canadian and fun and full of CFL pride, even if the majority of those dancing downtown came from other places. That didn’t matter: They grabbed Toronto and brought us along for the ride.

That part was a win for the city and for the organizing committee — people like Chris Rudge, David Bedford, Dana Fields — making this event so foreign to Toronto seem so much like comfort food.

But the success of the week was first enhanced by the appearance of the Argonauts, and it was made that much better in the end when Toronto won the darn game rather handily. That completed the package and yet the general manager, Barker, doesn’t get the kind of credit for making this work either by his own ownership, or those who put on the parade through the downtown streets ending Tuesday at Nathan Phillips Square.

Barker says he made a determination at the end of last football season to give up coaching. He said he wasn’t told to do so — it was his decision. Others tell a different story.

But it was Barker’s choice completely to hire his close friend, Scott Milanovich as coach. That move, by itself, can’t be under-estimated. First-year head coaches are normally learning on the job and there were times this season when it appeared Milanovich was doing exactly that. But as time went on, as the long CFL season grew longer, it was clear that as the Argos were getting smarter and better, so, too, was the rookie head coach.

The last rookie head coach to win a Grey Cup also managed that at Rogers Centre. The Argos won Sunday partly because Kevin Glenn was the Calgary quarterback. The Roughriders won in 2007 with Kent Austin coaching partly because Kevin Glenn wasn’t the Winnipeg quarterback. And Eric Tillman played a part in both the 2007 Cup — he won — and the 2012 Cup, which the Argos won because Tillman traded quarterback Ricky Ray to Barker.

So if Barker doesn’t get Ray, the Argos don’t win a championship. And if Barker doesn’t step down and hire Milanovich, the Argos don’t win. And if Milanovich isn’t close friends with Chris Jones, who walked out on his Calgary contract to run the defence, the Argos don’t win.

But it all starts with Barker, as it does with every team in every sport. This Grey Cup belongs so much to Barker, the aw-shucks GM, who shouldn’t be so aw shucks about now.

His contract has one year left to run. The coach he hired for two years got two more years in an extention just a few weeks ago. Milanovich, his close friend, has job security. Jones, the defensive coordinator, is paid more than your average defensive coordinator because he doesn’t just coach the players, he finds most of his players. He has security.

Barker has nothing promised for the future, except a coming wedding he looks forward to. He should have been given the microphone Tuesday and tomorrow he should get a contract extension. The first one didn’t happen. The second one should be automatic.


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