After rejecting two job offers from the Toronto Argonauts, Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons returns to try and turn around the sinking ship.
Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons has accomplished a lot during his time in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts both as a player and coach but you can bet that this will be his toughest challenge to date.
One thing was clear during his introductory press conference, the 54-year-old was not in his cheerful mood and it’s hard to blame him. This is not the situation he wanted to be in and neither did the team.
Clemons made it no secret that on two occasions, Bill Manning approached him with a job offer and was denied both times but eventually, Clemons realized that the team needed him to step in.
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Falling to 2-12 on the season, it’s clear that the Argos need a reset and there is no one more qualified to provide the guidance necessary and accountability to make Toronto a proud CFL franchise again. Sure, the team has two Grey Cup titles in the last seven years but as the Clemons pointed out, the consistency hasn’t been there.
Since Clemons last coached the team in 2007, the Argos have finished above .500 only twice (2013, 2015) along with three 9-9 seasons which ironically led to their last two Grey Cup titles (2012,2017).
Clemons made it clear the biggest challenge isn’t getting the team back to the playoffs but making sure they are competitive year-after-year. He also believes it’s going to take a cohesive staff to turn this around.
"“My greatest strength is to understand how important I am not and I mean that sincerely,” Clemons said. “If it’s me, this can’t be done.“We’re going to build a strong, capable team around us. That’s only way we’re going to have any success.”"
One person who will play a big part in that is John Murphy who had been working with the team as a consultant and will now assume the role of vice-president of player personnel. Murphy has spent time with the Calgary Stampeders where he was a part of two Grey Cup-winning teams and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
With the trade deadline quickly approaching, Murphy will make calls to see if there are any teams interested in making a deal but he doesn’t want to make a panic decision because of the limited time available.
"“If we do nothing, that doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing. If we do something, it means it was for the betterment of this club moving forward into next season,” said Murphy. “We need to go back and watch film on some guys to know for sure where we’re at with them. [There is] no need to make any panic button decisions or any fast choices on guys just just to prove a point.”"
While the team is expected to start from square one, that doesn’t mean getting rid of the entire roster. Murphy doesn’t think it makes sense to jump to conclusions on individuals and if there are pieces that the team can build with, they will make that a priority.
Of course, the fanbase has been craving a team they can get behind and it’s understandable why they would not want to support the product on the field. Murphy believes that fans have every right to be impatient and they hope to be more open and honest with them.
"“At the end of the day, if you’re a season ticket holder, if you buy a jersey, if you buy a concession or a souvenir, or whatever that means you help pay my salary.” said Murphy on communicating more with the fans. “If I can sit there and answer their questions but also give them the same time and give them the same dignity, to believe that their team does actually care about what they’re saying.”"
It’s clear after getting Clemons on board that MLSE does care about the Argos being a model franchise in the CFL. Manning mentioned his work to talk with various people around the league to get their perspective on what the team needs to get on track.
Giving this management a head start with some games left in the season puts this group in a better position to succeed then what happened back in 2017 where Popp and Trestman were brought weeks before free agency.
When you consider how the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and even the Toronto Marlies have gone through their ups and downs, what has helped them get to the point they are at now is strong leadership at the top.
It also helps that each organization identified a way to recruit elite talent and while the Argos have had that in the past, you can bet it will be a priority going forward. Not only does this team want to get those players but make sure they are in for the long haul.
Obviously, the pivotal decision will be the team’s next quarterback something Clemons made sure to point out.
"“In six Grey Cup championships here, our quarterbacks have been Matt Dunigan, Doug Flutie, Damon Allen and Ricky Ray,” said Clemons. “We have to build a strong team but we can’t disguise the importance of that position.”"
What this could mean is having Zach Collaros play if he is physically ready to go considering the team has enough of a sample size from James Franklin and McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
At the same time, Clemons wanted to stress that one player or person is going to fix this and that’s why patience and time will be crucial to making this successful.
"“Excellence is layered. It’s not doing one thing, when you have great teams, they don’t have just a good offense. They don’t just have good coaches, they don’t just have a good defence. They don’t just have good special teams. They don’t just have leaders on the team,” said Clemons. “They have most of those things, if not all of those things. It’s a culture that is created from the inside.”"
Seeing how emotional Clemons was at the press conference and in the media appearances he made throughout the day shows just how important this team is to him and how much he wants to see it succeed.
That should be a breath of fresh air considering how much the fanbase, everyone around the league and people in Toronto respect him. This is really the best attempt the team is making to ensure there is continuity and consistency with the franchise because the model teams in the league do not have significant turnover.
The team considers this a new era for Argos football but really it’s a call to the past which saw success, accountability and a healthy culture both on and off the field and that’s because of the man in charge. Hopefully, he’s ready for his biggest challenge to date.
What do you think about the decision to make Clemons the new general manager? How long do you think it will take him to get this team back on track? Let us know in the comments below.