“In Trestman We Trust.”
That was the turn of phrase floating around the Toronto Argonauts locker room earlier this season as players adjusted to life under new head coach Marc Trestman. The early returns weren’t great – they were 4-7 on Labour Day – but won five of their last seven, including an emphatic 40-13 road win against the B.C. Lions on Saturday night, to finish first in the CFL’s East Division.
Not bad for a coach who, along with general manager Jim Popp, wasn’t hired until late February – weeks after most CFL staffs were filled. They took over a team that finished 5-13 in 2016 and missed the playoffs two of the previous three seasons.
“He’s a guy that’s in charge and leading us and he’s done a great job with the team,” said veteran quarterback Ricky Ray, who finished second in the CFL with more than 5,500 passing yards. “You could see us really improving throughout the year. Coach does a great job of not letting things get kind of brushed under the rug.”
The win over the Lions, who will be absent from the post-season for the first time since 1996, means the Argos have secured a first-round bye and will host the Eastern Final at BMO Field on Nov. 19. It’s the team’s first division title since 2013.
“I think the bye is important to anybody going into the playoffs. All the obvious things, it gives us home field with one less game to play and allows our guys to get some rest,” Trestman said. “They really spent themselves this past week and in this game. I think it will be good for our team.”
It will be a work week, however. While the two in-season bye weeks are free from team activities, allowing American players to return home, the Argonauts will practice three times this week as they prepare for the winner of the Eastern Semi-Final between the Ottawa Redblacks and the Saskatchewan Roughriders to be held next Sunday in the nation’s capital.
But the extra time will also give the Argonauts the opportunity to market and sell the first playoff game at BMO Field featuring the home side – it was the site of last year’s Grey Cup but Toronto didn’t make it – an important consideration given the team has averaged less than 14,000 fans this season.
“I think it’s becoming an advantage for us. The fans have been a factor. We haven’t had the size of crowds but we’ve had a loud crowd and a passionate crowd and our players have bought into that vibe,” Trestman said. “We’re looking forward to a full house.”
What he isn’t looking forward to is more questions about his integral part in the team’s remarkable turnaround. He was asked about whether he felt any satisfaction in what he’d accomplished after the win in B.C. and, predictably, used the question to praise others.
“I work really hard to do my part just like everybody does their job. I clearly recognize the inner connection we all have as players, as coaches, as front office, as owners and general managers,” he said. “When you win on a night like this everybody is keenly connected to the team’s success.”