Untold story surrounds The Don

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

The end -- if this is in fact the end for Don Matthews -- comes typically with clouds, contradictions, confusion and speculation.

This is how it ended in Montreal, how it ended in Edmonton, how it ended twice in Toronto, how it ended almost everywhere he has been.

There is always a story. There is rarely truth.

He is or isn't ill. He was or wasn't fired. This was been the life of The Don, the most despised, most intriguing, most annoying, most fascinating and most winning coach in Canadian Football League history.

"This isn't a democracy," Matthews once said to me. "It's a dictatorship. And I'm the head dick."

Indeed he has always been that. He has been called almost every name in the book and then some in his two decades of Canadian football. Egotistical. Driven. Singular. Nomadic. Rude. Chauvinistic. Brilliant. Moody. Mistrusting. Caustic. Abrasive. A million or so contradictions all bottled up in one tortured but talented soul.

But at least he was a face, a name, a personality for a league that needs faces, names and personalities. Think Wally Buono for a minute and try to come up with who he really is. You can't. Think Tom Higgins or Danny Maciocia or Danny Barrett or Doug Berry and try to come up with who they are. You can't.

Pinball Clemons, graduate of the school of Don, borrowed from the best to make his way as a CFL coach, but he already was full of notoriety before he graced the sidelines. But with The Don, there was a certain crust, an edge, an energy. A story within the story.

There is little middle ground with Matthews. You hate him or you strongly dislike him ... unless you happened to play for him.

He won a Grey Cup in Vancouver and then got fired. "I left Vancouver because of illness," he once joked. "They were sick of me."

He didn't joke about the $100,000 he was owed by the Lions and was never paid.

The illness joke followed him around and at times so did illness. Matthews coached the 1997 Argos, a Grey Cup team, living on blood thinners after being diagnosed with a blood clot. He could have quit then because of illness but didn't.

It's highly unlikely he quit now. That's not what Matthews does. It always has been his way or the highway and now he's on the highway.

Next football stop may be riding his motorcycle up the stairs of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

He won Grey Cups as an assistant coach in Edmonton, as a head coach in Vancouver, Toronto (twice), Baltimore, Montreal. Over time, he was head coach in six different CFL cities.

Almost every game he coached was against a former team.

All that was missing -- and that's their shortcoming not his -- was the opportunity to coach in the National Football League. He wanted it and wouldn't advertise for it. As he told me more than once, "If they want me, they know where I am."

Bud Grant and Marv Levy got the chance Matthews never did and found their way to eight Super Bowls.

Tom Landry knew where Matthews was in his final days coaching the Dallas Cowboys. Landry brought Matthews to Dallas, picked him up at the airport, and asked him to diagram his pressure defence for the Cowboys.

He was so sold he offered Matthews a job right on the spot. The two shook hands on the deal.

Four days later, Matthews turned on his television set to see the stunning news: The Cowboys had fired Landry as coach.

"I never heard from him again," Matthews said.

He had a brief game of footsie with the New Orleans Saints but they settled at the time for a guy named Ditka. In between, Matthews coached, won Grey Cups, aggravated those he worked for and with, and travelled the world. He made stops in Fiji and Greece, Africa and Israel, Egypt and Peru.

That was the contradictory Don: A man of culture who rarely acted like a man of culture. He was, as someone once described him, the human battery: For every positive, there was a negative. Teams were delighted to hire him, just as delighted when he left.

"This is an ass-kicking contest," Matthews once told his Saskatchewan players, before a game against Edmonton.

"And the Eskimos are supplying the ass."

Over the years, some might have argued the successful ass happened to be the guy on the sidelines.

PLAYOFF ABSENCE

It is 13 years since the Blue Jays won the World Series. While they contend money is the major reason for that banishment, this much we know: With Detroit ending its drought, 11 different AL teams have played playoff baseball since the Jays last appeared. Only Kansas City, a 1985 champion, has been on the outside longer.


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