The case for Jim Barker

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:21 PM ET

TORONTO - The highest collective compliment made to Argonauts head coach Jim Barker could be done, Taylor Robertson, believes, through 43 phone calls.

“If you called every one of the guys who was on the field when we lost to Montreal (in the East final) and said, ‘We’re doing it again tomorrow,’ every guy would be on a flight tonight,” Robertson, an Argos offensive lineman, said on Thursday.

“Other years guys would have said, ‘Probably not. See you in camp.’

“You want nothing more than to help him get a Grey Cup ring, give him something back after he has spent six months instilling something in you. He could have got rid of all of us (last winter). But he told us we were good players and he believed in us.”

That belief in his players, which became mutual at about the same time Barker was finishing his first address to the team as a whole in training camp last June, helped turn the Argos organization into something respectable again.

As a result, Barker deservedly was named on Thursday as one of three finalists for the Annis Stukus Trophy, awarded annually to the Canadian Football League coach of the year.

Barker’s fellow nominees, as selected by 53 voting members of the Football Reporters of Canada, are Marc Trestman of the Montreal Alouettes and Ken Miller of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The winner will be revealed on Feb. 25 in Vancouver at the league’s annual congress.

The Argos, who won seven games in the two previous seasons combined, were 9-9 under Barker in 2010, and advanced to the East final after beating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the semifinal.

Taking nothing from Trestman, who won the award last year and will go into 2011 as the coach of the two-time defending Grey Cup champs, or from Miller, who was a nominee the past two years and took his team to the Grey Cup both times, but Barker should be the first Argos coach to win the award since Don Matthews in 1997.

Trestman and Miller started the 2010 season with rosters that featured leaders at quarterback, the most crucial position in the sport. Anthony Calvillo and Darian Durant gave Trestman and Miller, respectively, a solid base; Barker did not have a similar luxury with Cleo Lemon, who was a 31-year-old CFL rookie and had several missteps as he learned the game.

Miller had more roster holes to fill than Trestman did, but had many core veterans at his disposal.

Barker? Well, we’re not telling tales out of school when we submit that essentially he had to put together a bunch of smashed pieces in an organization that had missed the playoffs two years in a row.

“I wanted the game to be fun again for the players,” Barker said. “I have a vision of what it takes to be successful, and I outlined that to them. It was never about the past.”

For the players, though, plenty about Barker’s past mattered.

Anyone would have looked great after the horror that was Bart Andrus, but Barker had three Grey Cup rings and an attitude that oozed confidence.

“You can have a winning record, but it is what you do with it,” Robertson said.

“Jim established early what he wanted to do. Instead of having a guy who disrespected the league or who called people out — he had a positive approach.”

Barker, who is enjoying a final few days in Phoenix before the off-season starts to heat up again with free agency on Feb. 16, had one potentially negative factor that Trestman and Miller did not. Barker had not been a head coach since 2003, but thanks to his time in the Calgary Stampeders’ front office, the game did not pass him by.

“It was daunting to learn the off-field side of it, but it gave me a clearer picture of what I had spent 30 years trying to do, which was coach,” Barker said.

“I would trade (the nomination) for what Marc has, which is the Grey Cup rings. And Ken Miller has done a great job and has been there too. I just do what I do and try to do it well.”


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