Argos coach returns to scene of crime

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:34 AM ET

CALGARY -- They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Doesn’t matter to Jim Barker.

Hell, he’d go for it again.

“That’s kind of the way that I coach,” Barker said. “You do what your gut tells you to do.”

Seven years removed from a gutsy overtime call that still has some Stamps fans scratching their heads, Barker is back on the sidelines, bringing an overhauled Toronto Argonauts squad to McMahon Stadium for Thursday’s season-opener against his old organization.

Barker, who was the Calgary Stampeders head coach for one season and was on the club’s scouting and personnel payroll for five more, accepted the top job in Toronto in February, seizing an opportunity to get back a little closer to the action.

His coaching debut in Calgary is still a sticking point for some McMahon supporters.

It was June 17, 2003, and the visiting Montreal Alouettes had forced overtime then booted a field-goal on the first possession of the extra frame.

The Stamps marched to the one-yard line, but instead of sending in kicker Mark McLoughlin to even the score and extend the game, the new head coach called for a third-down gamble.

Incomplete pass. Game over.

Alouettes 23, Stampeders 20.

“I don’t think there was anybody on our team that was surprised because they knew what we were trying to build there,” Barker said. “We were taking over a team that was last place, the worst team in the league the year before — they’d won four games — and we’re playing the defending Grey Cup champs from Montreal. We had a chance to win the game from one yard away, so we took it ...

“I just felt it was the right thing to do. If we have a similar situation here, and

I believe it’s right for us to go for it, we’ll do the same thing here. It’s all about the type of mentality you’re trying to build on your football team, and I don’t want our guys to be afraid to be successful.”

In his role as GM and, later, director of player personnel, Barker helped build the Stamps into a contender. He’s shooting for the same type of success with the Argos, winners of just three games last season.

And it all starts on Canada Day in an oh-so-familiar setting.

“Any time you have rookie players, you never know how they’re going to perform,” Barker said. “To go into McMahon Stadium and play against Chris Jones — you know their defence will be as good as any in the league — and Henry Burris, and with what Calgary’s offence has done over the years, it’s a tall order. We’re going to go in there, and it’s going to be a great experience for our young guys to get a feeling of what the CFL is all about.

“And it’s the perfect setting for me. Regardless of what happens, it’s the perfect setting.”

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca


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