Argos extend head coach Scott Milanovich, but questions still linger over GM Jim Barker

The Edmonton Eskimos caused an unnecessary pre-playoff controversy this week by firing general manager Eric Tillman, but their opponents in Sunday's East semifinal, the Toronto Argonauts, created an unnecessary controversy of their own with an extension for head coach Scott Milanovich Thursday—and the two may be related. You see, ever since Tillman's firing, there's been somechatter that he might wind up in Toronto, as Argos' general manager Jim Barker has been rumoured to be on thin ice for some time. Argonauts president Chris Rudge attempted to shoot down the Tillman rumours with his words at a press conference Thursday, but his actions sent a different message: by extending Milanovich's contract while he still had a year and an option year left, but leaving Barker (who reportedly has just a single year remaining on his deal) hanging, Toronto certainly didn't show they're set with their management team. In fact, if anything, extending Milanovich's deal while ignoring Barker's status suggests the franchise may be preparing for Barker to exit, and is ensuring he won't take Milanovich with him if he does.

Of course, without being inside Rudge's mind, it's impossible to determine exactly what his motivation is here. Maybe the franchise is so impressed with Milanovich that they wanted to remove all possibility of him leaving, although it's hard to see why that would be; yes, the Argos under Milanovich have been impressive at times, but they were just 9-9 on the year and were the worst in the league in several areas where coaches can have an influence, including penalty yards. Maybe they really are happy with Barker and aren't even considering adding Tillman in any role, as Rudge said. From some angles, this would make sense, as having a coach on a long-term contract like the one they've just given Milanovich might make it more difficult to attract quality general-manager candidates from outside; few top executives would want to walk into a situation where they're stuck with a coach they didn't pick. Still, if the Argos are so happy with Barker (who has made some excellent moves, including the trade that gave them Ray), why would they not give him an extension at the same time as Milanovich?

In the end, if this was a move by the Argonauts to remove talk of changes at general manager, it failed spectacularly. If anything, it's backfired; a few people were talking about the Barker situation beforehand, but with the team not discussing it, those conversations would have been largely relegated to the backburner until after Sunday's game. By extending Milanovich and not Barker, the team's drawn full attention to its management, and has done so right before a crucial playoff game. It's a rather odd way to do business, and one that will keep eyes firmly focused on the Argos' executives heading into this weekend's game.