CALGARY - Jim Barker sauntered across the field at McMahon Stadium not long after noon on Wednesday, trailing a few of his grandchildren.
On the gridiron for the Argonauts’ walkthrough before his players exited from the bowels of the stands, Barker stopped to take a look around.
“It really did feel different to be in blue,” Barker said. “But to look over and see Hilda (his girlfriend) and the grandkids, I just felt at home. This is a place that (Thursday night) is going to be the Toronto Argonauts’ house. It’s odd being in this locker room and odd being on that side of the field, but at the same time it is so exciting.”
Not since 2003 has Barker coached in a Canadian Football League, but that will change when the Argonauts lift the lid off their 2010 regular season against the Calgary Stampeders. In between coaching gigs, Barker was the Stamps’ general manager for a time and also their director of player personnel, helping the club win the Grey Cup in 2008.
One player Barker procured for the Stamps was Jeremaine Copeland. The offensive star sat beside Barker at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, wearing his No. 80 Argos jersey, an Argos cap and flashing his big smile. The close relationship that Barker and Copeland have was clear.
Barker wanted to keep it going during the winter, so he traded for Copeland, bringing to the Argos some true respect to an offence that has lacked it for several seasons.
“I felt butterflies, and I have not felt butterflies in a long time,” Copeland said of his initial return to McMahon. “It’s a good thing because this is the start of something new.
“I would be lying if I said I did not want to come back and prove (the Stampeders) made a mistake (in trading him for receiver P.K. Sam). But I know coach Barker, and whatever they threw at him, he would overcome it and get me on his side. That’s what you gotta love. Around my age (33), people are starting to be sent home.”
The knowledge that Barker and Copeland have of the Stampeders should work to the visitors’ advantage, at least in the early stages, on Thursday night.
The Stamps won’t know for sure what Barker has in mind, simply because he has not coached in years and the Argos did not run any offensive plays in the pre-season that they plan to use in the regular season.
I know their strengths and weaknesses,” Barker said. “Hopefully it is something we can capitalize on.”
The loss of Copeland has been felt by the Stampeders without a single snap being taken. Sam, the man he was traded for, has been injured and will not play.
For players such as slotback Nik Lewis, the absence of Copeland, who led the CFL with 12 receiving touchdowns in 2009, has been obvious.
“I don’t think I could explain it in a short period of time, but he has done a lot for me in my growth as a player and as a person,” Lewis said.
“He means a lot to me. Once you step on the field, it’s all about business. But I don’t have to tackle him, so it’s fine.”
Barker is a heart-on-his sleeve type, a quality that endears him to his players after the impersonal Bart Andrus left a sour taste for many last year.
Barker was asked about the emotions he will feel on Thursday night when he walks out of the tunnel and on to the field.
“You ask that question and I have a little bit of a chill,” Barker said.
“A big part of my CFL life has been here in Calgary. It’s a perfect scenario to be able to go out and coach my first game in seven years in a town that has been so important in my life. It’s hard to put into words.”