Matthews joins Fletcher, Gaston as Toronto goes retro

{eot} Staff
9/9/2008 1:23:43 PM
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Somewhere out there, Isiah Thomas is waiting for a call from the Toronto Raptors.

The Canadian Football League's Argonauts brought back Don Matthews as their head coach on Tuesday, continuing Toronto's run of flashback hirings over the last seven months.

In February, the struggling Maple Leafs called a news conference at the Air Canada Centre to announce that the club had fired John Ferguson Jr. and re-hired Cliff Fletcher as general manager. Four months later, the Toronto Blue Jays held their own media gathering across the street at the Rogers Centre, announcing that Cito Gaston was replacing John Gibbons as manager.

With Matthews completing the throwback trifecta, the Toronto sports scene has effectively brought back memories of Gilmour's overtime goal against St. Louis, Flutie's heroics in at the Grey Cup in Hamilton and Joe Carter's World Series-clinching home run.

One could also be forgiven if flashbacks of grunge music, dial-up internet and episodes of The Simpsons that were actually funny came to mind.

Pop culture references aside, is bringing back the past enough to spark success for the future?

That certainly seems to be the case for the Jays these days. Since Gaston's re-hiring on June 20, the club is 41-27 - the second best record in the American League. Since June 22, the team also has the best winning percentage in the American League at .621 (41-25).

Even more impressive is Toronto's three most recent wins over AL East-leading Tampa, putting them on an eight-game winning streak. The Blue Jays are on their longest win streak since an eight-game run from April 14-22, 1999. Toronto has not won nine in a row since it ripped off 11 straight victories from August 27 to September 7, 1998.

The move has also sparked production from key players. Since Gaston and hitting coach Gene Tenace took over on June 20, outfielder Alex Rios has hit at .323 with 10 home runs, 26 doubles, five triples and 40 RBIs in 63 games. Prior to Gaston's arrival, he was batting .270 with three homers and 27 RBIs in 71 games.

"I don't think there been any secret with that, Cito is definitely going to be back," Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said last month.

"He has done a good job here. We've got a long way to go offensively, but he has really laid the groundwork for some of the right stuff offensively. Guys like playing for him. We were just fortunate he was there. We were just really lucky that no one else had hired him. He was the right guy at the right time. We never had any doubts he'd be back."

Fletcher, who signed a 19-month contract to run the Leafs back in January, was on a mission to clean up a Leafs team that was struggling for a third straight season. But the longtime executive was limited to just a few moves during the season as the 'Muskoka Five' of Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Brian McCabe, Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle refused to waive their no-trade clauses.

The team missed the postseason again, and it was at that point that the veteran executive really got to work. He parted ways with Tucker and goaltender Andrew Raycroft by buying out their contracts and traded McCabe after the blueliner waived his no-trade clause to go to the Florida Panthers.

Fletcher was also active bringing in new faces, hiring Ron Wilson to replace Paul Maurice as head coach and acquiring goaltender Curtis Joseph, defencemen Jeff Finger, Mike Van Ryn and Jonas Frogen and forwards Niklas Hagman, Mikhail Grabovski, Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg. While the verdict is still out on this year's roster, it certainly doesn't spark fond memories of his Leaf teams that made back-to-back trips to the Conference Finals.

"We're going to have a lot of young players there this year," Fletcher this summer. "How we fare during the regular season will depend very much on how half a dozen of our young players progress. The key word for the Maple Leafs management and coaching is going to be patience. You can't force things to happen - you have to let them unfold and happen at their own pace. I think most hockey fans in this area understand what our situation is here. I think they have a pretty good feeling for what has to be done to build a much better team."

That being said, the Argos' hiring of Matthews on Tuesday certainly brings its own share of high expectations. The Canadian Football League's winningest coach has 10 Grey Cup rings - two of them in back-to-back seasons with the Argonauts - accomplishments that can't not be ignored.

"I appreciate the difficulty which my arrival has caused and want to acknowledge that," Matthews said Tuesday. "Being reunited with all my friends at the Argos excites me. We have had a lot of success together.  The big picture was always on my mind - it is imperative that Toronto have a strong franchise on the field. I have had success here in the past and it is my intention to help do it again."

Which 'throwback hiring' has the best chance of bringing his respective team back to glory? Gaston? Fletcher? Matthews? Let it out on's Your Call feature below.

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