The Toronto Argonauts fired general manager Jim Barker this morning and, at first glance, it looks like the latest in a series of bad decisions by a management group that has made a series of them since taking over from David Braley on Dec. 31, 2015. It’s hard to believe that things could actually be worse without Braley, who showed little to no interest (and invested even less) in the Argos but here we are.
The timing of this decision makes no sense on all sorts of levels.
1. The Argonauts were eliminated from playoff contention on Oct. 22 after a loss to Calgary – more than three full months ago. Their regular season ended Nov 5. Most teams looking to make a change at the general manager or coaching level do so as soon as possible: the Alouettes fired general manager Jim Popp on Nov. 7. The reason most teams move right away is so they can get a head start on hiring – there’s always a certain amount of musical chairs that goes on after the season as front office and coaching personnel find jobs for the upcoming season. By waiting this long, the Argos have likely missed out on the ability to interview potential candidates from other teams as most clubs have set their staffs and will be reluctant to allow them to interview for other positions.
2. By leaving Barker in place for so long, the outgoing general manager has a significant impact on next season. Barker represented the team at the league meetings in December, negotiated contract extensions for quarterback Drew Willy and Shawn Lemon and was busily preparing for free agency – which begins in three weeks. No matter who the new general manager is, they’ll be stuck with a number of the decisions Barker made while he was essentially a dead man walking.
3. By retaining head coach Scott Milanovich (at least for now) and promoting Spencer Zimmerman to assistant general manager, the Argonauts now have an organization structure completely out of alignment. Will the new GM be forced to keep Milanovich and Zimmerman or will they have the freedom to make their own hires? And if they can’t, will that impact their ability to hire a quality candidate?
4. The whole thing reeks of ineptitude – which is absolutely the last thing the Argos need right now. Since taking over as president and CEO, Michael Copeland has made a series of mistakes that have further diminished an already damaged brand. The move to BMO Field was touted as a magic elixir but the big crowds failed to materialize. The team priced the Grey Cup tickets into the stratosphere, then suffered through embarrassment (prices slashed) after embarrassment (given away) after embarrassment (with 10 wings!) in order to fill the stadium for the championship game. Now, they’ve fired their general manager at an inexplicable time.
The CFL needs a thriving Toronto franchise to be successful – it’s the media, business and advertising capital of this country – and the Argonauts have become a drag on the rest of the league. The organization desperately needs to get its house in order.
5. Quarterback Henry Burris will announce his retirement today and while opinions on Hank vary across the CFL, there’s little question that he’s been a premier player for a long time and sure-fire Hall-of-Famer. He deserved the attention of the entire CFL community today. Instead, he’ll share the news cycle with the Argos and their head-scratching decision-making process. He deserved better.
There’s only one way the timing of this decision makes any sense: if the Argonauts have a big-name replacement already in the works. But that list isn’t particularly long and features Popp, Hamilton’s Eric Tillman, former Saskatchewan GM Brendan Taman…. er, that’s likely it. Marc Trestman has already said he doesn’t want to be a general manager and while there are plenty of other good names out there – Ottawa’s Brock Sunderland, Hamilton’s Shawn Burke, Saskatchewan’s John Murphy and Jeremy O’Day, B.C.’s Geroy Simon, Winnipeg’s Danny McManus – all would be first-timers and unlikely to move the needle enough to draw much by the way of fan and media interest in Toronto.
And if there is another splashy shoe to drop, it would have made much more sense to announce it on the same day Barker was let go, giving the Argonauts at least the chance at some positive spin. Instead, even if something unforeseen and spectacular comes next, the Argonauts have endured yet another round of bad press.