The Argos hiring process was a mess. That doesn’t mean it won’t work.

New Toronto Argonauts head coach Marc Trestman, left, and new general manager Jim Popp pose for a photo ahead of a press conference to announce their hirings in Toronto on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Revisionist history notwithstanding, there are only two plausible explanations for the convoluted process that brought Jim Popp and Marc Trestman to the Toronto Argonauts. Either this was president Michael Copeland’s plan all along – in which case it was inherently and spectacularly flawed – or this was the end result following a series of missteps and rejections by other candidates.

Which doesn’t mean it won’t work out just fine.

Popp and Trestman were formally announced on Tuesday as the general manager and head coach of the Toronto Argonauts with Copeland spending much of his time at the podium looking to set the record straight as how, exactly, it took him three whole months to decide to hire two guys who were unemployed when the 2016 CFL season ended last November. Popp, Copeland insisted, was a candidate early on and no, the job wasn’t offered to a series of NFL-types who turned it down. Both things have been widely – and it says here, accurately – reported.

Instead, Copeland says the hires are simply the end result of a long and thorough process that nonetheless forced the team to endure significant portions of the off-season with either a dead-man-walking general manager – incredibly, Jim Barker wasn’t fired until Jan. 24 – or no general manager at all, including during the all-important free agency period. Copeland, Popp and Trestman all insisted that’s no big deal: every other personnel guy in the CFL says otherwise.

The consequences of Copeland’s “process” are illustrated nicely by quarterback Drew Willy. Barker, desperate to save the team’s season and his job, sent a first-round draft pick and a promising defensive back to Winnipeg for Willy last September – a trade that, if there was any question about his future with the club, Barker shouldn’t have been allowed to make. After missing the playoffs anyway, Barker restructured Willy’s deal and gave him a $7o,000 signing bonus. Trestman’s first move as head coach? Naming Ricky Ray his starting quarterback.

In other words, the new regime doesn’t look at Drew Willy the same way the old one did. That’s perfectly fine, understandable even. But it’s something the team should have known months ago, before they renewed their commitment to a guy who is now clearly a back up quarterback.

Trestman’s decision to name Ray the starter without, by his own admission, having seen Willy play was the only mildly shocking element of Tuesday’s presser. Ray is 37-years-old and been limited by injury to less than 11 starts a season since arriving in Toronto five years ago.

But Trestman’s previous CFL success, which included two Grey Cups in five seasons, came with Anthony Calvillo at quarterback and it’s clear he’ll try and recreate that success with Ray, despite the fact he’s almost two years older than Calvillo was when Trestman arrived in La Belle Province.

And if there’s a nagging question about Trestman’s success in Montreal, that’s it: how much of it is attributable to his own coaching acumen and how much was due to the fact that the greatest quarterback of a generation was already in place when he arrived? Trestman was 57-26 with Calvillo at the helm and just 2-5 without and while that’s not a huge sample size, his coaching record since his departure – 13-19 two seasons as head coach of the Chicago Bears, a year-and-a-bit as offensive coordinator in Baltimore – isn’t exactly sparkling.

It’s certainly clear that the modern incarnation of Jim Popp – i.e. the one without Calvillo and Trestman – wasn’t a rousing success. The Alouettes burned through 10 quarterbacks post A.C. and the team has gone 30-42 the last four seasons as Popp went through two separate stints as the team’s head coach. Popp’s version of events is that Montreal ownership was responsible for much of the coaching hijinks that surrounded the team, including his forays to the sidelines.

We’ll soon find out whether Popp and Trestman can rekindle their old magic. The timing of their hiring has added to the degree of difficulty in season one – word is both got three-year deals – but nobody wearing Double Blue seemed keen on using that as an excuse. Popp will be in command of personnel, unencumbered by senior management, while Trestman will be free to coach as he sees fit. Just a few years ago, it was a winning combination.

Copeland, the most important hiring process of his tenure finally done, can resume his attempts to resuscitate the Argonauts’ business operations. If Popp and Trestman can foster another winner, his job will be significantly easier. And if they can’t? Well, by that point, it’s unlikely Copeland will be around to worry about it anyway.

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
Drew Edwards
Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1358 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

20 Comments on The Argos hiring process was a mess. That doesn’t mean it won’t work.

  1. Clay Connor // February 28, 2017 at 6:53 pm //

    Note that the Bears have gone 9-23 since John Fox replaced Marc Trestman and the Ravens were minus QB Joe Flacco for 5 games in 2015.
    Anthony Calvillo won 2 Grey Cups in 5 years with Trestman and 1 Cup in 11 years with anyone else, including all-time great Don Matthews.

    • Slim Pickens // March 1, 2017 at 9:10 am //

      The post was long and rambling, get over it. Copeland stated the articles were inaccurate, I believe him. He never at any point told people he did not want Popp, he was the first person he met with, he flew to Carolina and spent some time with him, he met with others that were interested in the job, but only offered it to Popp

  2. Hi Drew
    Interesting article however I think you are being a little hard and kind of negative regarding Michael Copeland’s process. I’m just an old Lion’s fan out on the West Coast but I’m delighted with the duo of Popp and Trestman. The Argos were pretty bad last year and did almost nothing to attract fans to their new home. I know the league has been in business for over a hundred years but with only about 10 thousand bodies showing up for games in Toronto didn’t bode well for our CFL.
    I’m really glad Copeland didn’t rush for replacements. I appreciate he lost some valuable time but I think he got it right with Popp and Trestman. The team has lost opportunity with free agency as I’m sure it’s difficult to ‘sell’ the Argos to prospective free agents without a GM and coach however I’m really looking forward to Popp and Trestman working their ‘magic’ and making the Argos competitive again.

  3. Another good article, Drew. I suspect Scullers will be competitive year-in, year-out for the ‘foreseeable future’. Is that enough to turn things around? I’m still not sold on (Sara) Moore and Copeland, but I hope they and their colleagues will show my doubts to have been mistaken.

  4. Maybe Ricky Ray can do what Burris and Allen did late in their careers

    • Only if he isn’t running for his life because of an ineffective OL!

      I do agree that the whole process should not have taken this long. One can believe Copeland or not that Popp was the original choice. They will no doubt eventually have success but to some extent will be hampered by the dealing of the previous regime – at least for this year.

  5. John McClyment // February 28, 2017 at 8:36 pm //

    The timing that matters now to the Argonauts is the next three months. Recruiting of both coaches and players will be crucial to a successful season and there is a narrow, but not impossible window to get the Double Blue winning on the field. As a season ticket holder that’s what I wanted to see last year. As important as the new stadium is and the new energy and fun that tailgating brings, it’s finding ways to win on the field that makes all the rest worthwhile. The best marketing is a top notch CFL team.

    • wishing them the best John. Nice to hear from season ticket holders..Question Do you guys still have actual paper tickets or moved to an electronic method with a single plastic card.Do you get a fridge magnet schedule?

  6. Feeling Blue // February 28, 2017 at 8:37 pm //

    I think Copeland is an earnest man…Who Cares, and that’s where it starts. Now he’s got two men in place who have a passion for success. And also a plan. Exciting times ahead.

  7. I believe Larry Tannebaum and George Cope got involved in this hiring. Which is fine.

  8. Dan Bombers // February 28, 2017 at 9:46 pm //

    Great news for the cfl and Argo fans I’ll be welcoming Marc back personally from the stands like I do with all visiting coaches !!

  9. The process the writer anchors around the feet of the CEO is one used in pro sports for a millennium. Never hire until you see the whites of their eyes. Barker and Milanovich demonstrated their worth and that = empty seats and clown antics. This hiring after time and agony is expensive especially paying off Barker who no one explains anything about his background. Also is the Wily deal and now of course a team that has to snap into pride as pros not use the NFL as an excuse for their state. I think the process is far better than a panic one and terms are kept in house, thanks. Too many writers seemingly headed to Buffalo for summer time ex season. rb

    • GoCats! // March 1, 2017 at 1:25 pm //

      Sure … one wants due diligence as well as a planned process … but four months?

      This isn’t the first year that Barker/Milanovich did badly so why wait until Jan to deal with it?

      Similarly, Trestman became available in Oct and Popp in Nov … so for “top of the list” candidates, it seems like an incredibly slow process.

  10. Philski // March 1, 2017 at 1:07 am //

    As a TC fan I detest the Argos with a passion…but I am humble enough to realize that if there is no CFL team in Toronto then most likely there is no CFL. I also have to admit that I am somewhat envious of this pairing…2 bonafide football men in Popp and Trestman…while here in Tiger Town we have, well, Austin and Austin…sigh.

    • GoCats! // March 1, 2017 at 1:28 pm //

      It will be interesting to see what happens.

      Trestman rode Calvillo. He was one of the reasons the backup QBs weren’t prepared as it is reported he never sat Calvillo.

      Maybe like Desjardins he’s learned a thing or two but I am doubting it will be a quick return to glory for the Argos.

  11. Really Philski !!! , sorry bud – there is still 8 teams if T.O. is gone , this 2017 , not 1970’s and have you really been paying attention to the league in the last 5 years . Fort Mac , Alberta , outdrew Toronto for attendance when they played games there a few years back , that was a feeler and expectation of the league that the Argos could be moved and survive.
    This league will be expanded to 10 teams within the next 8 years (with or without Toronto).
    This nation is , big – resourceful and very business savvy , CFL would do just fine without T.O. , I HIGHLY doubt that GMC – FORD – and other corps. would pull advertising dollars from the CFL , ex. when the majority of truck sales is out in Western Canada .

    As for the Toronto sports press – who really cares about them anyway – anymore !! , Rogers(sportsnet) – CBC – CTV(MAIN) – GLOBE and MAIL – STAR – SUN and a few others , they all sh-t on the CFL —- BUT we have survived and will survive and expand

    • Lance Brown at CFTO (CTV) is a CFL/Argo fan and shows it. Any particular reason for not noting TSN (which, I admit, could ‘up their game’ regarding league coverage)?

    • Philski // March 3, 2017 at 5:57 am //

      We’ll agree to disagree. Toronto is a marketing capital. Yes, the fans for the football franchise have diminished the last couple of years, but the infrastructure is still there. And so is the history of the Boatmen. I would not get too hung uo on FM, or anywhere in Canada where pre season games are being played. Of course they’ll come…it’s a novelty! And I won’t even get into rivalries which boost attendance figures. Gee, as a long time TC fan, which would I rather see on Labour Day, Toronto vs Hamilton, or, wait a minute, Quebec, or Halifax, or…

  12. Teleology // March 1, 2017 at 12:00 pm //

    “And if there’s a nagging question about Trestman’s success in Montreal, that’s it: how much of it is attributable to his own coaching acumen and how much was due to the fact that the greatest quarterback of a generation was already in place when he arrived?”
    What you seem to forget is that the Als were a mess in 2007. Calvillo was getting slaughtered in the back-field almost spending more time on his back than upright including an injury. Many were questioning if his days were over.

    Trestman redesigned the offense with a particular emphasis on quick release. In 2008, they flipped the slide and made it to the Grey Cup.

    Certainly he inherited good talent on both sides of the ball, but please ensure he gets credit for reversing a seemingly declining team and turning them into a dominant force. It is not hard to argue Calvillo’s final years were the result of Trestman – including pushing up to #1 onto the all-time list. I don’t think it would have been the case without Trestman. I doubt AC would disagree.

  13. Sounds like someone is mad that Copeland publicly rejected his version of events yesterday …

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