Argos' Barker voted CFL's top coach

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:01 PM ET

VANCOUVER — Jim Barker took approximately 15 minutes during his acceptance speech on Friday afternoon to thank those close to him and note the accomplishments of his Toronto Argonauts in 2010.

But Barker, with the Annis Stukus Trophy in his hands, knows the recognition will be fleeting if the Argos don’t take another step forward in 2011.

“There’s absolutely no doubt about that,” Barker said as he proudly stood beside the trophy that is given annually to the coach of the year in the Canadian Football League. “The biggest thing is this says we are doing things the right way. Taking those first steps are critical.

“The next step is to win the Grey Cup. That’s what we are here to do. We’re here to win Grey Cups, not coach-of-the-year awards.”

With his 81-year-old mother, Nancy Barker, brothers David and John and girlfriend Hilda Stuwe watching, Barker was presented with the award by Argonauts slotback Jeremaine Copeland.

In voting by 49 members of the Football Reporters of Canada, Barker garnered 35 first-place votes to beat fellow nominees Marc Trestman of the Montreal Alouettes and Ken Miller of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Under Barker, the Argos were 9-9 and got past the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East semifinal at Ivor Wynne Stadium before losing to the Alouettes in Montreal in the East final. This after the Argos collectively won seven games in 2008 and 2009.

The Argos went out on a limb when they hired Barker in February of 2010 after he contacted them about the job opening. He was a sound football man, but he most recently had been in the Calgary Stampeders’ front office and had not been on the sideline since 2003, when he coached the Stamps to a 5-13 record. Prior to that, his only other head coaching experience in football had been guiding the Argos to a 9-9 record in 1999.

Barker got the ears of his players with an emotionally charged speech at the start of training camp. He had made some changes, including hiring a new coaching staff, but the players bought in immediately. The ride had some bumps as quarterback Cleo Lemon got adjusted to the CFL, but the confidence growth was clear.

Returner Chad Owens blossomed under Barker, winning the CFL’s most outstanding special teams player award, and running back Cory Boyd established himself as an offensive force. Offensive lineman Rob Murphy was re-born, and did not allow one sack.

On defence, Barker recognized Willie Pile’s leadership skills and switched him to safety from linebacker, a move that also had good results.

In the larger picture, Barker was able to ensure that his players believed in themselves again. That might have been his biggest challenge, and it was one he not only met head on, but conquered.

“What people saw last year was a spark,” Copeland said. “And I believe this year will be something more different. Expectations are going to be a lot higher than they were last year.”

Barker, a man who happily refuses to guard his emotions, choked up a few times during his speech and was humbled with the award. It was evident that he comes from a tight family. His father, Paul, passed away in 2003 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. His brothers and mother flew from California, unwilling to miss Barker’s day. Barker noted his mother did not really bat an eye when he one day arrived home from the University of Southern California in the 1970s and said he was going to change his major to physical education from business.

“This is his lifestream,” Nancy Barker said. “He gives it his all. As long as he is happy, that is the main thing.”

Barker might be happy, but not satisfied. That will come only with a Grey Cup ring.

“What the players need is consistency,” Barker said. “When you look at Don Matthews, Wally Buono, those guys are consistent.

“Everybody is looking forward to next season. You are only as good as the last minute you played. That’s the nature of what we do.”

terry.koshan@sunm


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