TORONTO - After months of supporting quarterback Cleo Lemon, Argonauts head coach Jim Barker said on Monday that he expects there to be a competition at the position when training camp opens next June.
At no time during his final media scrum at Erindale did Barker say Lemon would be his No. 1 quarterback next year.
“It was a year for us to learn about him,” Barker said. “We will take the off-season, evaluate where things are at and go forward from there.
“I imagine there will be a competition. He is the starting quarterback now, and as the off-season rolls, that is going to change as we go through and evaluate and look at the season as a whole.”
The Argos were crushed 48-17 by the Montreal Alouettes in the East Division final on Sunday. Lemon, as was the case through much of the season, had trouble moving the offence. As it was, the offence was the worst in the regular season in the eight-team Canadian Football League.
Barker said he saw forward steps by Lemon, who was in his first season in the CFL, but stopped short of a ringing endorsement.
“I saw progression in certain aspects and certain aspects he never got good enough at,” Barker said. “Those kind of things, those are the decisions we have to make, can he make those kind of changes that he needs to make to be able to be successful?”
Lemon wants to be back.
“I want to be here,” Lemon said. “I feel I’m the leader of this team and I want to lead this team to a Grey Cup. That’s my ultimate goal. We all share that goal in the locker room.”
It will be Barker who makes the integral off-season decisions. General manager Adam Rita was nowhere to be seen at the Boatmen’s training facility as the players said goodbye to each other, his empty parking space taken by TV camera tripods. It’s expected that after seven seasons as the GM of the Argos, Rita’s contract will not be renewed.
Barker said “he thinks it is possible” that one man can be both GM and head coach, but that those decisions “are made by people above me.”
And when Barker referred to the team’s seven potential free agents, including special teams captain Bryan Crawford, Barker said that player personnel director Mike Hagen was working on getting those players re-signed. In fact, Barker didn’t mention Rita’s name once during his 10-minute scrum.
Neither Rita nor Argos president Bob Nicholson immediately returned messages on Monday afternoon.
The Argos won’t have as many news conferences this off-season as they have had in the past two years, what with coaches being hired and the ownership change, but it would not be surprising if it was announced at some point that Barker will be the coach and general manager.
Toronto was 9-9 under Barker, a vast improvement over a total of seven wins in the previous two seasons, and no one thought the team would advance to the East final.