That Jim Barker is a funny guy.
The new head coach of the Toronto Argonauts was left cooling his heels for 10 minutes on Tuesday morning as general manager Adam Rita went on and on about the virtues of the man he was about to introduce.
When Barker finally strolled into a downtown Toronto hotel conference room, he greeted Argos president Bob Nicholson and looked at Rita and said, “Thank you for that, Adam. I almost fell asleep out there.”
It was a tanned and relaxed Barker who then held court with reporters, ensuring that his desire for coaching in the Canadian Football League only strengthened in the seven years that passed since he most recently stalked the sideline, in 2003 as the Calgary Stampeders’ field boss.
“I’m ready to dive back in,” Barker said. “I’m much more prepared than I was 11 years ago (when he coached the Argos). I needed to take a step back (after the Stamps let him go in ’03). I wanted to see the other side and went into the management end. I never really lost the passion to coach.”
Rarely is there a straight line to one job from another in the sporting world, but Barker went to the other end of the planet to get to Toronto on Tuesday morning. The 53-year-old spent a month in New Zealand this winter, leaving his cell phone and laptop back home as he did some major soul-searching. Barker was not unhappy with his job as director of player personnel with the Stampeders.
But as he hiked in the mountains and swam in the waters off Ninety Mile Beach on the northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, the California native realized he wanted more.
“Dealing with players day to day is the thing I missed the most,” Barker said. “I enjoyed what I was doing. I was involved, but I missed the game plan. When this happened, it was a perfect scenario.”
Just because he discovered he wanted to coach again, however, there was no guarantee Barker would find a new job. The odds grew quickly when a close friend, Scott Milanovich, turned the Argos down 11 days ago.
Barker called Rita, another good CFL pal. Rita had Barker on his list of potential candidates, but Barker’s name appeared at the bottom.
“It was only because of what he was doing, not because we did not like him,” Rita said.
“With Scott, we were reaching for a young guy with a little vim and vinegar. Well, we have a guy with a lot of experience. He has not coached in a few years, but he has that frickin’ fire. We got the best of both worlds.
“It’s hard to think that somebody is going to move out of management and on to the field, so you have to second-guess that. But the more I talked to him, the more I knew he was in tune with the game on the field.”
Barker might not have represented the big splash some Argos fans were hoping for, but it might be because he has lost 120 pounds in the past three years and has shed the moustache he had when he coached the Argos to a 9-9 mark in 1999.
The rapport with Rita was obvious, and Rita was adamant that Barker will be more to the organization than just another coach. Player personnel meetings will involve Barker, and he have a voice in major decisions.
There’s one fact Barker can take to the bank: His key, when he arrives to set up his new Argos office, will work.
Eleven years ago, when he showed up for work one day with the Argos and his key no longer fit the lock, he knew his gig was up.
He was gone, swept aside by a new owner, Sherwood Schwarz, and replaced with John Huard.
David Braley won’t have the same surprise waiting for Barker.
“I never felt like it was unfinished business,” Barker said.
“When it was sold, it was a different team to me.
“But everything works out exactly as it should.”