TORONTO - The shock mostly worn off from their shellacking at the hands of the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday, the Argonauts gathered one last time 24 hours later for exit interviews with head coach Jim Barker and to clean out their lockers.
And given a day to think about it, they warmed to the fact the 2010 season mostly was a success.
“Being a doom-and-gloom guy normally, there were a lot of positives,” offensive lineman Rob Murphy, one of the Argos’ top players every week, said. “Who would have thought this at the beginning of the year? For all intents and purposes, going into the season, we were the laughingstock of the CFL.
“We built a core group and there is a good foundation to build on. You can see how close we are (as a team). That wins out a lot of times. If you have guys believing in one another, that conquers a lot of things on the field.”
Every player who was asked said it was the approach of Barker that was the driving force in the turnaround. Barker’s ability to balance support for his players and to be critical of them helped lead to the .500 record after the Argos won a measly three games in 2009. When he gathered his team for training camp back in the first week of June, it was clear to Barker that they were starved for capable direction.
“There was no doubt,” Barker said. “They were hungry for somebody to come in who had been around the league and who understood what the CFL is all about. The guy who was here prior (the incomparable Bart Andrus) had no CFL experience and did not really understand the way things work.”
And make no mistake, Barker is the guy who will try to take the Argos from the mediocrity of .500 to a club that can compete seriously for the Grey Cup annually.
It sounded a lot like Barker will be totally in charge before too long. He has been in a sense, just not on paper.
General manager Adam Rita was nowhere to be seen on Monday at the team’s practice facility at Erindale, and did not return a message. Rita is slated to undergo knee surgery on Tuesday, and it could be one of the last things he does as GM of the Argos.
Barker made no mention of Rita in his final scrum with the media, and didn’t scoff at the idea that he could be the coach and GM at the same time.
“I think it’s possible,” Barker said. “Those decisions are made by the people above me.”
And Argos president Bob Nicholson said nothing has been determined.
“We have not really finalized plans,” Nicholson said on Monday night. “We’re just getting set to go through that process.”
Barker knows there will be on-field changes. One might argue that not many players on the defence that allowed the fewest points during the regular season will need to be replaced, but the Argos will be in the market for a short-side cornerback as Willie Middlebrooks’ neck injury might spell the end of his career.
The other side of the ball is another matter. Barker wouldn’t endorse Cleo Lemon as his No. 1 quarterback going into camp next year, and the Argos will have to make big-time upgrades at receiver in order to join the CFL’s higher echelon. Expect that non-import Spencer Watt will become a go-to guy, but much more will be needed.
The bottom line, though, is that for the first time in recent memory, questions involving the Argos will not abound in the off-season.
“Ten wins is pretty special, but we have to get better, because .500 is not good enough,” offensive lineman Taylor Robertson said. “But we have something to build off, and that’s not only a huge positive, but something we did not have for a couple of years.”