'I'm not a distraction'

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

The Argos have reached the midway point of the season with more distractions and rumours than wins.

More than any Kerry Joseph touchdown drive, Dominique Dorsey special-teams return or any Kenny Wheaton tackle, the off-field events have dominated the headlines.

Despite the undercurrent of turmoil, the Argos find themselves at 4-5, in second place in the East and their football fate in their hands with coming games against the first-place Montreal Alouettes and the free-falling Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

"We need to be the Toronto Argonauts and play,'' embattled rookie head coach Rich Stubler said yesterday, a day after the Argos eked out a 34-31 road win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats amid speculation that Stubler's job hung in the balance.

"We tried to distance ourselves from the distractions and we did. I'm not a distraction."

At least for now.

Winning, it seems, cures everything, but Stubler's handling of the Argos has become the top story in the first half of the season, whether he cares to admit to it or not.

He has shown his displeasure with assistants Marcello Simmons and Steve Buratto in front of a nationally televised audience.

Stubler thought Joseph and Michael Bishop could co-exist. Stubler was sold on his hand-picked roster, especially on defence.

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Then came the surprise release of veteran safety Orlondo Steinauer during the team's recent bye week.

While no one will dispute Stubler's track record as a defensive co-ordinator, whispers that he can't manage an entire team haven't disappeared.

Much like the Argos, Stubler remains a work in progress, still trying to find his way in his new role that comes with complete autonomy.

Stubler lives in the moment and claims to pay no attention to whatever rumour surfaces on any given day.

"At this moment I'm happy,'' Stubler said as he reflected on his team's Labour Day triumph. "I'm happier than I was last week."

Coincidence or not, but the Argos played Monday with a passion not seen in previous weeks.

In recent memory, the Argos have been notoriously slow starters. But there was something different about this year's team, which looked terrible in losing back-to-back games to Hamilton and Montreal prior to the bye week that raised plenty of alarm bells.

"We had some hesitation among some people because we had issues,'' Stubler said.

"We've eliminated some issues. When you eliminate issues, it makes (playing) a little better."

With Joseph no longer looking over his shoulder, he responded by throwing for a season-high 399 yards on Monday.

With his defence vulnerable against the run, Stubler decided to use stalwarts Michael O'Shea and Michael Fletcher in situational downs. They combined for one tackle.

"We played much better,'' Stubler said of his entire team. "We played with more passion.

"There was a lot more want in finding a way to win. For us, it's finding ways to win."

And finding ways to eliminate distractions.


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