Argos' Barker looking good for award

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:43 PM ET

VANCOUVER — Ken Miller does not need to see Jim Barker win the Annis Stukus Trophy on Friday to validate what he saw in the Toronto Argonauts in 2010.

“Jim took a team, and an organization, that was really wrestling around, grappling, trying to find a hold,” Miller, the former coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and finalist with Barker and Marc Trestman of the Montreal Alouettes for the Canadian Football League’s coach of the year award, said.

“He had a steady hand and righted the ship. As we went through the season, they became a formidable team. He did a really nice job there.”

Not many coaches whose teams end the regular season with a .500 record — as the Argos did in 2010, going 9-9 — wind up as nominees for top coach. But Barker, who is the favourite to win the award (with one report saying he will be the winner), inherited a mess from Bart Andrus and put his faith in quarterback Cleo Lemon, who had no CFL experience.

That would have been difficult on its own to navigate. But Barker also had to convince the players who had been with the Argos a year before that they were worthy. An easier task — and one Barker could have done had he been hired prior to the second week of February last year — might have been to shake the roster completely clean and start from scratch.

But Barker knew he had some talented players, and it was a matter of recharging their confidence.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were the only team the Argos did not beat in the regular season (when it counted most, in the playoffs, the Boatmen trumped the Tabbies), and despite that dominance, Ticats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille knew he was watching from across the field a transformation of a team.

“Jim did such a great job in getting his players to believe in themselves,” Bellefeuille said. “That was the No. 1 thing I noticed in terms of the different culture, the different feeling, the belief in themselves, he was able to instill that. Regardless of whether we had beaten them before, you could see it.”

Barker likes to say that he views the award as more of a team recognition thing than anything else, but you can bet he will be tickled if commissioner Mark Cohon announces Barker’s name. Barker’s 80-year-old mother, Nancy, and brothers David and John, were scheduled to arrive on Thursday night, and his girlfriend, Hilda Stuwe, arrived with him on Wednesday. Barker’s father, Paul, passed away in 2003 after a bout with Alzheimer’s disease.

“It would be a validation for the organization that we are on the right track, that we are doing things the right way,” Barker said of the possibility of winning. “There is not one person who comes in and does any one thing.

“I’ve coached in baseball and basketball. In football, it really does take a full staff.

“But it really is humbling when you think of the Annis Stukus Trophy. I used to watch Don Matthews and to think I am now up there in that conversation, it is pretty exciting.”

Barker’s coaching career began in the 1970s when he was a student at the University of Southern California. When he was not earning a bachelor’s degree in physical education, Barker was coaching Pop Warner football.

Since, there hasn’t been a day since that Barker, whose enthusiasm was a big factor in getting his players on board, has woken up and wished he was in another profession.

“I’ve said I have never worked a day in my life, and I absolutely believe that,” Barker said. “When I was a kid, I would just go out and play ball all day. I can’t change a light bulb or use a hammer. This is what I know.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

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