TORONTO - Bob Nicholson was having dinner with a couple of reporters and Argonauts staff members on the eve of the regular-season opener in Calgary when the topic of wins arose.
Nicholson, the Argos president, figured that nine victories for the Boatmen, who had all of three a year earlier, would be about right.
The reporters tried not to choke on their calamari.
The Argos employees nodded in agreement, supporting what the boss was saying, no matter how crazy it might have seemed.
Turns out, of course, that Nicholson was right.
"My objective was nine wins," Nicholson said during a telephone interview on Tuesday. "But you really don't know. I had a lot of faith in Jim (Barker, the head coach). He was a breath of fresh air for the guys who had been here (through a couple of bad seasons). He had a clear vision and he was able to communicate that to these guys."
Like everyone else who paid a lot of attention to the Argos as they advanced to the East final on Sunday, when they lost to the Montreal Alouettes, Nicholson knows the offence will have to improve in 2011 for the Argos to take another step. Whether that happens with Cleo Lemon at quarterback remains to be seen, but based on what Barker said as players cleaned out their lockers on Monday, it probably wouldn't be a safe bet. Who are we kidding — Lemon has to be replaced, whether it's by Ricky Ray or someone else.
The Argos defence allowed the fewest points during the regular season. The offence scored the fewest.
"My interest is in seeing a better balance to the way we win games," Nicholson said. "It's about having the offence having a bigger role in winning games."
Barker didn't take over until the second week of February. The coaching staff was in place within weeks, but it was a bit of a rush job, because Barker had no other choice. In a perfect world, the ownership issue wouldn't have dragged on all winter, and had it not, a head coach would have been in place a lot sooner.
Point is, for the small window of time Barker had to put things together, finishing .500 should be viewed as a more meaningful accomplishment in the bigger picture. It has been asked on more than a few occasions, but who exactly would beat Barker for CFL coach-of-the-year honours?
"Absolutely," Nicholson said when asked whether he was satisfied with the record. "This season was a big step for us. We made some phenomenal strides.
"Now, we have more time and a clear focus this off-season rather than just ripping things apart (and starting from scratch again, as has been the case in the past two winters)."
Nicholson said no decision has been made on the future of general manager Adam Rita, but it's hard to see how Rita will be back. In a bit of a silly mandate that stems from the office of Canadian Football League commissioner Mark Cohon, teams are discouraged from making any personnel moves in the week leading up to the Grey Cup. Otherwise, it might have been publicly acknowledged that Rita's contract will not be renewed.
Off the field, Nicholson's marketing staff can begin selling to the public an actual competent organization.
"We're finally coming off a year where we have positive news to sell," Nicholson said. "We're going to have the Grey Cup (in Toronto in 2012) and there is all the more reason for people to get involved. We have to get the helmets off these guys and get them recognized."