|Toronto Argonauts coach Jim Barker calls the play during Argos practice. (Dave Abel/QMI AGENCY)
TORONTO - The Toronto Argonauts aren’t flashy, they don’t ask Cleo Lemon to be Tom Brady and they won’t dazzle anyone with statistics.
All they’ve done is find a way to win, and this season they have found it unexpectedly often.
Coming off a three-win season, new head coach Jim Barker’s crew has reeled off 10 wins, including four in a row on the road.
Obviously, a new pipeline full of players brought an influx of talent.
But Barker credits a stable, hands-off approach by ownership and a change in team culture for the improvement. Even a loss Sunday cannot blot what has been a remarkable revival of fortunes.
“I’m excited we’re going into the Eastern final and there isn’t a guy here who doesn’t believe that we’re going to win the football game” Barker said Friday as the team prepared to leave for the final in Montreal.
“That’s the hardest thing to fight when you’re trying to build something; getting your team to truly, truly believe and they truly believe.”
Now all they have to do is convince everyone outside the Argos’ locker room.
“When we get to a point where our fans, when we go into a game, truly believe we’re going to win the football game that’s when we’ll have the organization where we want it to be,” Barker said.
Barker is aware few gave the Argos a chance to get this far; even fewer believe they can beat the Als.
There are still those who question if Cleo Lemon can be the quarterback of the future.
“I always believed in what I wanted to do. The quarterback thing was always a big issue. I knew how I wanted to do it,” said Barker, who has been Lemon’s staunchest backer, even when the quarterback has a lower rating than every other starter in the CFL.
“If we win ... He could become the first rookie to take a team to the Grey Cup since Ricky Ray. It doesn’t happen often. Give him credit,” Barker said earlier this week.
In Calgary, where he never found a winning formula as a coach, he never called his own game.
In Toronto, said Barker, “I was able to hand pick and say, ‘I want to do this or I don’t want to do that’ ... Having ownership that allows you to do what you really believe in, that’s how you have a chance to be successful.”