Analysis: Playoff elimination sparks talk about potential change with Argos

The Canadian Press

It's been a monumental fall from grace for the Toronto Argonauts.

Since winning the '17 Grey Cup, the Argos have managed to win just six regular-season games. On Saturday, Toronto (2-12) was eliminated from CFL post-season contention following a lopsided 55-8 road loss to the B.C. Lions (5-10, fourth straight victory).

Former head coach Marc Trestman, who led Toronto to its '17 title, paid the ultimate price for last year's dismal 4-14 record. He was fired mere hours after a season-ending loss in Ottawa.

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At the time, president Bill Manning opted to retain general manager Jim Popp, saying, "I had to make a decision on who I wanted moving this football operation forward and I decided Jim was the right guy to do that."

Popp hired Corey Chamblin, Toronto's defensive co-ordinator in '17, to replace Trestman. But the coaching change hasn't translated into more wins as the Argos opened the season 0-6 and are 2-6 in their last eight contests.

And often they've looked bad doing so. There was a season-opening 64-14 home loss to Hamilton on June 22 and a 26-0 road defeat in Edmonton on July 25, the Argos' first shutout defeat since '09.

Then on Saturday, Mike Reilly threw five TD passes and B.C.'s offence held the ball for over 43 minutes en route to the Lions' fourth straight win. Toronto had just 167 offensive yards and needed McLeod Bethel-Thompson's 27-yard TD strike to Armanti Edwards with 22 seconds remaining — the two also combined for the two-point convert — to avoid yet another shutout loss.

Front-office changes in Toronto appear inevitable.

Popp is in the final year of his contract and the expectation is he won't be retained. And although Chamblin signed a multi-year deal, the harsh reality is the Argos haven't done nearly enough to warrant Chamblin remaining on the sidelines.

In 2017, it was Chamblin's defence that clinched the Argos' 27-24 Grey Cup win over Calgary. But presently Toronto stands last in several CFL defensive categories, including offensive points (32.9 per game), offensive TDs (50), yards allowed (433.2) and opposition completion average (73.9 per cent).

There's been persistent talk in CFL circles lately of Toronto appointing former star player/head coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons as president.

Manning has that title currently but also holds the same post with Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. Manning enlisted Clemons' help last month and the affable native of Dunedin, Fla., has long been seen as the face of the Argos franchise and someone people can rally around.

Neither Manning nor Clemons have accepted interview requests.

Clemons has helped Toronto win Grey Cups as a player and coach but has no experience as a GM. That role would reportedly be assumed by Eric Tillman, a CFL champion with B.C. (1994), the Argos (1997) and Saskatchewan (2007).

Tillman most recently served as GM of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2016-18). His clubs have appeared in six Grey Cups over 17 CFL seasons.

Ironically, the most intriguing name considered a candidate to be Toronto's new head coach is Jones. Despite his success in Montreal, the interim tag remains. The Alouettes remain without an owner as the league continues its search.

What's more, Clemons, Tillman and Jones are all represented by the same agent — Gil Scott.

Stay tuned.

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PLAYOFF UPDATE: The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are idle this week but can still secure top spot in the East Division.

Hamilton (league-best 12-3 record) will clinch first place — and home field for the East final — with a Montreal loss or tie against Winnipeg (9-6) on Saturday. If the Alouettes win, the Ticats can still secure the conference's top seed with a home victory over Ottawa (3-11) on Oct. 19.

All five West Division teams have plenty on the line this week. Front-running Saskatchewan (10-4) visits Calgary (9-5) while surging B.C. (5-10, four straight wins) visits Edmonton (7-8), which has lost five of its last six games.

Edmonton failed to clinch a playoff berth Friday night in Hamilton but can do so with a victory or tie against the Lions.

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DEADLINE LOOMING: Traditionally the CFL trade deadline has come and gone with little to no activity. But there's plenty of interest in it this year (3:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday).

The most intriguing team leading up to the deadline is Hamilton. Backup quarterback Dane Evans is 7-2 since replacing injured incumbent Jeremiah Masoli (season-ending knee injury).

Even if Hamilton (league-best 12-3 record) clinches first in the East Division, Evans will likely still play a lot because he's a first-year starter. Behind him on the Ticats' depth chart are David Watford — in his second CFL season — and rookie Hayden Moore.

That could leave Hamilton looking for veteran insurance.

Ditto in Winnipeg, where backup Chris Streveler has replaced veteran Matt Nichols (season-ending shoulder surgery). CFL rookie Sean McGuire was the only other quarterback on the Bombers' depth chart for Saturday's 21-6 loss to Saskatchewan.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo has been stellar since replacing starter Zach Collaros in Saskatchewan's season-opening loss to Hamilton. Under Fajardo, the Riders (10-4) are tops in the West Division and have won three straight but he's backed up by CFL sophomore Bryan Bennett and rookie Isaac Harker.

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NEW PASSING LEADER: Reilly is back in a familiar spot.

The B.C. Lions quarterback took over as the CFL's passing leader with 3,891 yards. He moved ahead of injured Edmonton starter Trevor Harris (3,706 yards).

Reilly, the CFL's passing leader the last three seasons, completed 21-of-27 attempts for 276 yards with five TDs in B.C.'s win over Toronto. He's now tied with the Argos' Bethel-Thompson for most scoring strikes (20).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2019.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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