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Argos' coach Barker adds general manager role; Rita out

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The Canadian Press
12/15/2010 5:35:15 PM
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Jim Barker has been a head coach and general manager in the CFL before, but never at the same time.

Until now.

The Toronto Argonauts head coach officially added the GM duties to his job title Wednesday when the CFL club announced it wouldn't be offering Adam Rita, its GM and vice-president of football operations, a new contract after his current deal expires Jan. 1.

The move makes Barker the first Argos executive to assume both positions since Michael Clemons did the two jobs in 2003. He joins CFL veterans Wally Buono of the B.C. Lions and John Hufnagel of the Calgary Stampeders as the only league officials to hold down the two posts.

But Barker said he's more than prepared to handle the two jobs simultaneously because he's got experience doing both. A longtime CFL head coach and assistant, Barker also served as Calgary's GM from 2005 to 2007 before being named its senior vice-president of football operations and player-personnel director in 2008.

Barker left the Stampeders to rejoin the Argos -- he served as the club's head coach in '99 -- in February.

"I've spent over 30 years on the sidelines becoming as good a coach as I can be and spent five years being immersed in being a GM and in the business side of it and I think that's important.

"A lot of times a coach becomes a general manager without ever having gone out and getting his hands dirty scouting and doing all the things you have to do like going to NFL camps and dealing with agents. I got the chance to do things like that and I think those experiences of being immersed as a coach and GM give me insights that will help me be successful doing both."

Barker's promotion wasn't surprising. There had been talk since Barker joined the Argos in the off-season that Rita's days with the club were numbered. But Barker, who left a front-office job with the Stampeders to coach in Toronto, said his desire was always to return to the sidelines.

"I wanted to go back to coaching," he said. "For me, it was to come in and do the best job I could as the coach."

The Argos succeeded under Barker, who led them to a 9-9 record and third spot in the East Division after the club won just seven games the previous two seasons combined. After dropping all three regular-season meetings to Hamilton, the Argos upset the second-place Tiger-Cats 16-13 in the conference semifinal before dropping a lopsided 48-17 decision to the eventual Grey Cup-champion Montreal Alouettes in the division final.

Toronto's turnaround has made Barker a solid favourite to receive the CFL's coach of the year award, which will be announced early next year.

Barker's new role means he will have total control of all football operations decisions. But the two jobs could put him in a tough position with his players given that he's also the one they have to haggle with when it comes time to talk money on a new contract.

With Toronto having 10 players slated to become free agents in February -- including veterans such as defensive tackle Adriano Belli, hard-hitting safety Willie Pile, receiver Jeremaine Copeland and special-teams captain Bryan Crawford -- there's no shortage of impending negotiations. Barker says he plans have player-personnel director Mike Hagen handle most of the contract talks.

"There will be times when I have to step in," Barker said. "But my style is that I'm honest with players and tell them the way it is.

"Obviously it changes things a little bit, I guess, but Mike will handle a lot of the contract talks which I think helps alleviate much of that."

Much of Barker's off-season will involve tweaking the roster to find the combination that will take Toronto to its first Grey Cup berth since winning it all in 2004. But the biggest question the club faces is at quarterback, where starter Cleo Lemon struggled in his first season.

The veteran NFL player completed over 60 per cent of his passes for 3,433 yards but had more interceptions (19) than touchdown tosses (15). Toronto's offence did boast the CFL's second-ranked rusher in newcomer Cory Boyd (1,359 yards) but the unit finished the season ranked last in scoring (20.7 points per game), total yards (316.3 per game) and passing (221.1 yards per game).

Last week, the Argos announced that Lemon had torn a ligament in his right pinky finger during a game in September. Lemon played the remainder of the season with the ailment and will require surgery in the off-season.

Barker has steadfastly refused to use the injury as an excuse for Lemon's play but says Lemon remains in the club's future plans.

"If he wasn't in our long-term plans he wouldn't be here any longer," Barker said. "We'll look at that (quarterback) like we look at every position.

"We'll look at where we are and I'm much happier with where we are now than where we were when I first took this job."

Jim Barker (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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