The Toronto Argonauts may have been crowned champions in the 109th Grey Cup, but they were far from a model organization at the start of the 2022 season.
Sitting down with Bob Marjanovich on the latest episode of the Moj on Sports podcast, veteran running back Andrew Harris opened up about his transition from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to the Argos last season, noting that the experience was a positive one but also a rude awakening.
“I think I grew a lot more as a player, as a leader, as an individual, as a man going to Toronto than I would have if I would have stayed in Winnipeg because everything was status quo,” Harris explained.
“The locker room, the coaches, everything was very solid and sturdy there. Whereas going to Toronto, when I got there I was like, wow, this culture is a lot different. This team’s a lot different. We’re very immature. We have a lot of work to do. It made me grow and helped me blossom a lot more as a person going out there, for sure.”
The 35-year-old’s leadership role for Toronto last season has been well-documented, but the depths of the problems behind the scenes with the Argos remained largely under wraps. However, in-game clashes between the team’s strong personalities occasionally bubbled into public view.
In Week 4, receiver Brandon Banks was accused of throwing “temper tantrums” by fiery head coach Ryan Dinwiddie after an altercation with offensive lineman Trevon Tate. Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson was also the subject of controversy for his in-game outbursts, shoving an assistant coach during the East Final.
During Grey Cup week, Harris spoke about his decision to remain with the team after tearing his pectoral muscle and highlighted his desire to test the coaching waters. In his discussions with Marjanovich, the future Hall of Famer focused on another reason for the decision.
“I stayed in Toronto and I called the coaches,” Harris recalled. “I was like, ‘Hey, there’s a bit of a divide right now between the players and the coaches and it’s very obvious. There’s fighting a lot on the sidelines between players and players, and players and coaches, and coaches and coaches during the game and in the locker room after. I’m gonna try to use this opportunity to try to bridge that gap and try to be the middle ground there.'”
“Going to meetings with the coaches, the game planning, and understanding what they’re trying to achieve, what they’re talking about behind closed doors and kind of getting an idea of how can players understand this to a point where we can work together better.”
Harris’ plan paid off with a championship ring, as the Argos overcame tremendous adversity to defeat the back-to-back defending champion Bombers in Grey Cup 109. Progress was made much earlier in the year though and the running back believes he can pinpoint when the inconsistent team began to finally pull together.
“I think our turning point, honestly, was probably Labour Day against Hamilton,” he said, citing a 28-8 defeat of the Ticats. “We played Hamilton four times in five weeks so in and around those games, which is right around when I got hurt as well, you just kind of saw it.”
“Our defence was always solid, our defence played and saved our butts a bunch of times, Wynton McManis was going crazy, our DBs were making plays but in Hamilton, we had some drives where our o-line really thugged it out and got those tough yardage plays. We saw us finishing drives with no huddle. We saw guys with experience like Speedy (Brandon Banks) having two touchdown performances and making some crazy catches. Everything kind of started clicking with the offence, just slowly, and everyone started taking turns offensively.”
After collecting his fourth career Grey Cup title, Harris is still contemplating a return to the field in 2023. Should he choose to step away, the Argos better hope that his lessons aren’t soon forgotten if they want to repeat.