Pinball putting Argos behind

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

For almost all his adult life, Pinball Clemons and the Argonauts have been one and the same.

A franchise and its face.

He has been star player, star coach, president, chief executive officer, goodwill ambassador, all of it in Double Blue. Now the colours are slightly blurred as the Argos go through change and Clemons goes through change of his own.

The Argos are moving forward, essentially without Pinball in a prominent role for the first time in 20 years. He will have some kind of position with the team, but it won't involve football and it won't involve a whole lot of business.

"My real interest is in building community and I have a greater interest in building community than building a football team," Clemons said. "I've put all those things on hold the last couple of years.

"I love this organization, man. I do. Just because I don't want to coach or be on the field or be involved with the football team, doesn't mean it's not close to my heart. I've changed. My desire is to see this team be successful and my team (family) be successful."

Of course, he has changed. His family is growing up, his oldest daughter now is in high school. He has changed and so has his world. Last week, Clemons, born wide-eyed and optimistic, made his way to Washington for the inauguration of president Barack Obama. There his wide eyes broadened, his emotions got the better of him. He wasn't there with a special pass or as any kind of celebrity. Instead of being one in a million, he was just one of the millions.

"You really had to be there," Clemons said in our lengthy conversation. "The euphoria is hard to describe. The atmosphere, the people, the feeling. It was so good to be in the midst of it all. I was way in the back, but just to be part of it. Wow. It's hard to describe the feeling."

Up to now, Clemons has not listened to those who have tried to make a politician of him. But anyone who has ever heard him speak to a room knows how captivating he can be. His oratorical powers are immense, which is why he has been wooed so often for public office. Only now, only this time he may listen. The Obama effect, some figure. Maybe it's time. Maybe the political energy of the day has given him a purpose he couldn't or wouldn't muster before it was supplied by Obama.

The only thing is, a political life is not unlike the life of a football coach. Early mornings. Late nights. Very public. Little time for anything but the job. No time, as he likes to say, to coach his family.

Historically, Pinball Clemons has made a living being Pinball Clemons and he's very good at the business. Which is why the political questions won't stop. He has that kind of presence and charm.

It's why the Argos won't allow themselves to cut bait entirely with him. Truth is, they need each other. "It's really important for him to be part of the organization for as long as he wants," said Howard Sokolowski, one of the two Argos owners. "That exact role has to be defined. We're comfortable he'll remain an Argo for most of his life."

When asked why no role had been defined for Clemons yet, Sokolowski said honestly: "I'm at fault for that."

Clemons had nothing to do with the recent hiring of head coach Bart Andrus or the current Argos search for a team president. His Argos' job, still titled chief executive officer, is really a peripheral position. He will shake some hands. He will make certain the Argos remain socially responsible, however, contradictory that has seemed over the years. He will go from luxury box to luxury box during football games, making sure all is well.

He calls himself a "facilitator."

Just not a football person anymore. Which is a shame for football. Immediately before Clemons coached the Argos, they didn't win. And after he stepped down, they didn't win. In between, he won.

"There is a bigger picture here," said Clemons of his life away from football. "I hope people understand that."


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