The Toronto Argonauts
announced at that former Montreal Allouette offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich will be taking over head coaching duties from Jim Barker, who will focus on his General Manager position full time.
Milanovich was offered the position of Head Coach in Toronto before Barker was hired in time for the 2010 season, but turned the position down. At his press conference this morning, Milanovich noted that instability at the ownership level kept him from accepting the job. But with Senator David Brailey now owning the team (and the Grey Cup champion BC Lions), Milanovich felt comfortable accepting the Argos offer.
“It is a great honour to be entrusted with the responsibility of leading the Toronto Argonauts as their new Head Coach," Milanovich told the crowd of assembled journalists. "Jim Barker introduced me to the CFL in 2002 and has been a friend and mentor ever since I played for him in the XFL."
Milanovich has held previous positions with the Calgary Stampeders and Montreal Allouettes. He leaves Montreal, an organization he has been a part of since 2007, as the assistant coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach.
Finding success at quarterback is priority number one for the new head coach, taking over for Barker who rode rookie QB Cleo Lemon far longer than most thought prudent. Difference in style and temperament between the two men culminated in a sideline outburst of anger from Lemon that went well beyond sportsmanlike behaviour, led to Lemon's release mid-way through the 2011 season.
Barker acquired former Winnipeg QB Stephen Jyles in an off-season trade despite a severe shoulder injury with the intention of waiting out his injury. Jyles was given the starting QB job with Lemon's unceremonious departure, though as TSN sports writer Dave Naylor argues, Jyles struggled through the second half of the season.
Milanovich knows that securing a stable and productive QB will be his most pressing concern in the off season, given the turmoil and mediocrity that has so characterized the Argos anemic offence the past three seasons. Milanovich is a former QB himself, and a former QB coach, and so his knowledge of the position and what it takes to succeed may be deeper than Barker's.
Rumour has is that the Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats may both be interested in veteran QB Henry Burris if he is not re-signed in Calgary, but the Stamps have not made a decision on whether the former league Most Outstanding Player who was pulled half way through the season will be asked to come back to training camp.
The Argos have not been an exciting team to watch, Naylor told TSN Sports Radio shortly after the new coaching announcement was made. And the failure of Barker as head coach, and likely one of the prime reasons in his stepping down, was his inability to find a productive solution to the Argos QB woes. And with Barker now able to focus his efforts solely on the General Manager position, we will likely see a turn around.
Or so the dwindling Argo faithful hope.
Still up in the air is a decision from Calgary defensive coordinator Chris Jones on whether he too is heading to Toronto. Jones has told the Stampeders that he is leaving to join the Boatmen, according to SLAM! Sports
, but the Argos have yet to make any announcement about his joining the team. In fact, the Argo front office has officially denied that Jones is joining the team, although an official announcement is expected some time in the next week.
While the double blue has been dynamic on special teams, the Argos are looking to take that excitement to their offence and defence. Because when the team has found a way to win in the past three seasons, Naylor notes, they have found a way to win ugly.
And this is a pattern that Milanovich hopes to change with himself at the helm.
The Barker and Milanovich moves are good changes for an Argo team that has clearly struggled in the past three season, both on and off the field. Attendance has been down, so much so that the team doesn't bother to announce the attendance in stadium as they once did. A crowd that used to hit 28,000 per game is now fortunate to have 20,00 attend. In 2011, the attendance dipped to 18,720 by Week 16, and was routinely in the 19,000s.
And with the 100th Grey Cup being held in Toronto in 2012, the league realizes the importance of finding success and stability in the largest sports market in the country. CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said so himself at this year's State of the League address during Grey Cup week in Vancouver. The rest of the country may not like it, but a successful CFL team in Toronto is integral to the success of the league as a whole.
And the Milanovich move is an important first step in ensuring its continued success.