November 8, 2012
Scott Milanovich's contract extension muddies Argos' waters
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
TORONTO - In this, the week of the strange Eric Tillman firing, we give you more CFL strangeness courtesy of your Toronto Argonauts.
While rumours have swirled around the Argos about the status of general manager Jim Barker and possible front office changes, the Argonauts decided to put those rumours to rest just four days before their playoff match against Edmonton by extending the contract of head coach Scott Milanovich.
Neither do I.
This is “ass backwards” on the scale of how professional sports tends to operate. The general manager has one year left on his deal and speculation long has been that owner David Braley isn’t president of the Jim Barker fan club. Barker is a nice man, a terrific interview, and a guy who knows his way around the league in various capacities.
And while his future has been discussed and has been kicked around publicly in the rumour mills, club president Chris Rudge announced rather adamantly on Thursday that Barker is the Argos’ general manager and he isn’t going anywhere. But he was also clear as mud: There is no contract extension for Barker at this time.
He announced one for his coach — although he wouldn’t indicate how long the extension is for, which will only add to more of the guessing and speculation that he isn’t happy to comment about.
Normally, a general manager with a longer-term contract hires the coach. And, normally, the performance of one is tied to the other. These days, normally is getting kicked all over the field. Barker has a year to go. We’re speculating Milanovich is signed for at least three more years.
What this does mean is if Barker, for example, gets hired as the general manager of the expansion Ottawa franchise — another rumour around — he can’t take coach Milanovich with him, even though the two are close friends. That protects the Argos holding on to their coach long term.
“Jim is our general manager,” said Rudge — he could have finished the sentence by adding, “for now.”
Exactly why this announcement was made in a week of distractions around the CFL this close to a playoff game is reason to shrug. But in Toronto these days, where baseball managers are traded for infielders who are traded for pitchers, we’ve come to expect just about anything.
But you have to wonder: What the heck is going on here? This is Milanovich’s first year coaching the Argos and his first time as a head coach anywhere. He’s done all right, made some mistakes, had a terrifically erratic and undisciplined team, made some unique play calls, and has done nothing to make you think he’s the second coming of Don Matthews.
He might be great one day.
He’s not there yet.
And while it’s nice that Milanovich is in the playoffs and the Argos appear to be on the upswing, why the need to extend him now? This isn’t a “be kind to Ron Wilson extension,” throwing good money after bad. This is just ill-timed.
It’s good for Milanovich that his contract was extended — coaches don’t get enough respect at the best of times — but it wasn’t like he was going anywhere. He wasn’t about to pull a John Farrell and demand a trade to his dream job in Saskatchewan. He had a second year and an option year to run on the original contract signed last December. And, frankly, his status was basically a non-issue both internally and externally in the football world.
So why do it now? Why make the announcement after a get-ready-for-playoffs practice? Why clear the air on a subject where there is no air to clear on? What was the impetus?
Barker and president Rudge attempted to explain it. Their execution in that area, though, was somewhat reminiscent of the Argos’ offence under Cleo Lemon: They were hopeful and showing promise — they just didn’t get there.
If the rumour was ripe that the fired Tillman may be on his way to Toronto — which everyone on the planet denies — it wasn’t put to rest Thursday; it was almost further endorsed. The new coach has a new contract. The old general manager, as they say on Jeopardy, has one year left on his deal.
Something is lost in translation here.