Offer to return to CFL on TSN panel ‘too good not to take’ for former Argos exec Jim Barker

Photo courtesy: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

At 66 years old, not even the lure of chasing back-to-back Grey Cups could keep Jim Barker from heading back into the studio.

The veteran CFL front office executive recently stepped down from his role as senior advisor with the Toronto Argonauts in order to return to the CFL on TSN panel, where he spent time in 2018 and 2021. After nearly 26 years around the three-down league, it was time to take a formal step back, as Barker explained during a recent appearance on The Rod Pedersen Show. 

“For me, you just kind of know when the time is right,” he said. “I really enjoyed my time [at TSN] in ’21 when I did that pretty much full-time during the COVID time and I didn’t really get how much I liked it until I wasn’t in it. When the opportunity to come back arose, it was too good to not take.”

Barker was hired by Argonauts ahead of the 2022 season, helping to fill the front office void left by the suspension and termination of vice president of player personnel John Murphy. It marked his third stint with the organization, having previously served as the team’s offensive coordinator from 1997 to 1998, head coach in 1999 and again from 2010 to 2011, and general manager from 2011 until 2016.

Toronto’s victory in the 109th Grey Cup was Barker’s third championship as a member of the organization and fifth overall. That success still wasn’t enough to keep him around.

“I just felt it was time to move on,” he stressed. “We had won a Grey Cup, Toronto’s a great organization, and Pinball’s doing great things there. It was just right for me and where I am in my life.”

The native of Pasadena, Calif. has previously spent time as an assistant with the Montreal Alouettes, head coach and general manager of the Calgary Stampeders, and football operations consultant with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. His wealth of front office and coaching experience allows him to provide fans with a unique outlook on game day.

Barker officially returned to TSN during their coverage of the 2023 CFL Draft, working alongside Farhan Lalji, Marshall Ferguson, and Duane Forde. He is expected to resume his spot on the game day panel, an environment that he greatly enjoyed the last time around.

“From the time we get there, we’re pretty much laughing,” Barker said. “Kate Beirness is just such a great leader of that group because our personalities are so diverse between Davis [Sanchez] and Matt [Dunigan] and Milt [Stegall] and myself. We’re so diverse yet she kind of just brings it together. We all bring different perspectives and that’s what makes it really nice.”

A broadcast staple for as long as TSN has held CFL rights, the panel holds a special spot in the hearts of Canadian football fans. The group has a dedicated following and remains the cornerstone of the network’s coverage, even if they don’t always get along.

“They want us to banter back and forth, to bicker if we bicker,” Barker shared. “We’re talking all the time and the producers are listening upstairs. If we come across something and we just happen to say, ‘What the heck, what would they run that play for? Did they really think that would work?’ They want us to go back into that for the audience and that’s what makes it good.”

TSN’s CFL coverage has faced criticism for its stagnant formula and lack of fresh blood, with not every avid viewer remaining a fan of the panel’s schtick. However, Barker believes the group’s light-hearted and informative approach remains effective, and TSN’s viewership numbers would seem to agree.

“Really what I do is I try to get the people that are watching to be excited about the first half and then at halftime make them want to see the rest of the game,” he said. “We’re in the entertainment business and I think if we keep that in mind, it makes things a whole lot easier.”