Had Don Matthews been standing on top of the CN Tower with a bullhorn, the message from the new Argos head coach would not have been more clear yesterday.
"When you cross that stripe, give me your best football and kick those sorry bitches' ass!" the 69-year-old Matthews yelled at his players after their walk-through at the University of Toronto's Erindale campus.
Subtlety is not, and never has been, in Matthews' dictionary. Not that it should be, given that he is the winningest coach in CFL history and has to lug five Grey Cup rings to wherever his coaching career takes him next.
What Matthews wants to do is instill a swagger in his players again. If it was there under the departed Rich Stubler, it was not worn on the sleeve.
"I don't think it was ever a part of what we were doing," veteran linebacker Mike O'Shea said. "I don't think a swagger is something that was expected of us. In very short order I think (Matthews) is working that into our fabric."
To get it back within grasp, the Argos have to start winning with regularity. The hoped-for trend could begin tonight when the Boatmen take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the Rogers Centre as the CFL kicks of its first retro week.
The clubs will wear uniforms designed on those worn by the teams in the 1950s, and Argos alumni will be featured throughout the game. The festivities will dress up the game, but the Argos only care about getting a victory. Two of their four wins have come against the Bombers, and if Toronto wins tonight, the Argos would claim the tiebreaker with Winnipeg in the event they tie in the East Division.
"(Matthews) makes (getting motivated) pretty easy," said O'Shea, who played for Matthews when the Argos won back-to-back Grey Cups in 1996 and 1997. "Playing with passion rings true with every football player. Don has always been a guy who lets you be a man. A lot of guys respond to that."
Matthews has been known to put his stamp on a team by demoting or cutting a player not long after taking over. With free safety Orlondo Steinauer already gone, and another defensive veteran who was among the starters, Chuck Winters, put on the nine-week injured list because of a chronic shoulder problem, a sudden change might not happen as quickly.
Kenny Wheaton, who took over from Steinauer, probably will play, Matthews said, even though Wheaton has a bum shoulder. Also activated for the game are three players signed this week -- offensive tackles Jonta Woodard and Kenyatta Walker and defensive tackle Walter Curry. Linebacker Willie Pile returns after missing a game with a sprained ankle, but another linebacker, Michael Fletcher, still is out with a foot injury.
"Are we going to make wholesale changes? I hope not," Matthews said. "(But) these nine guys (the Argos signed this week) are not here for a vacation."
O'Shea knows what could be at stake, referring to the game tonight as a "one-game audition" for Matthews.
With just two practices in Toronto, Matthews was not sure how much his presence would rub off on his players.
"I will have zero influence on this," the man they call The Don said. "The ball is in the hands of the players and I am going out there to have the time of my life. I would be fooling myself to see if I could change anything around in this short period of time. The biggest change we will see is maybe the passion with which we can play."