The Don is back.
The Toronto Argonauts announced Tuesday that head coach Rich Stubler has been fired and former Argo coach Don Matthews has been hired as his replacement.
"The ship was heading in the wrong direction and we felt we had to bring in a new captain to put us in the best position to win each week, prepare us for the playoffs and build toward the Grey Cup. We wanted to bring Toronto fans the best and we believe the best is Don Matthews," said Argos GM Adam Rita.
The move marks Matthews' third go-around with the Boatmen. He previously coached the team in 1990 and from 1996 to 1998, winning back-to-back Grey Cups with the Doug Flutie-led teams in 1996 and 1997.
"Being reunited with Adam, Pinball, Steve, Bill, Kavis, Nick and 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," Matthews said in a statement.
The recent 45-19 loss to the Montreal Alouettes was just one of a series of ugly defeats, including twice to the lowly Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Argos have suffered this year, a situation that clearly wasn't acceptable to ownership and management.
"The progress wasn't happening fast enough. We have extremely high expectations as a group," said Argos' CEO Michael 'Pinball' Clemons at the news conference.
For the Argos, Matthews' availability played a big role in his hiring.
"I don't think we would have made a move quite so quickly if Don wasn't available," noted Rita.
Despite the team's record, 4-6, Matthews was optimistic that the team could be turned around.
"Rich Stubler is a good football coach," Matthews told a news conference. "The reason I'm here is, for whatever reason, the players aren't playing up to their potential."
"These guys are very capable. I've got to get these guys to play to their potential."
Part of the turnaround, Matthews hopes will come from a change in attitude.
"A lot of times my teams have been called cocky, it is because they have an attitude that they expect to win. I think that's one of the things that I am able to translate to the players."
Matthews noted that changes could be coming to the roster.
"Eventually piece-by-piece, we are going to assemble the best team we can."
After spending five years guiding one of the CFL's stingiest defences - the Argos surrendered just 163 touchdowns in 90 regular-season games during that span - Stubler took over the head coaching duties back in December of 2007 when Clemons stepped aside to take the role of CEO with the team.
"Rich was my right hand man for 6 seasons and his unbridled passion and unparalleled commitment to greatness is a big part of our rejuvenated prowess in the new millenium. This is a very difficult day and I've made the choice to celebrate the defensive genius, arguably the mind of the decade on that side of the ball," said Clemons.
It didn't take long for Stubler to find himself embroiled in controversy.
In early March, the Argos simultaneously acquired 2007 Most Outstanding Player Kerry Joseph from the Roughriders and signed incumbent Michael Bishop to a contract extension, creating no clear hierarchy at the quarterback position.
At the time, Stubler and the Argos hoped that the duo could work together
"We are confident we have the best 1-2 quarterback punch in the league," Stubler said.
Unfortunately, as the season progressed the QB situation quickly deteriorated as neither Joseph, nor Bishop was happy with sharing the load.
"Everybody seems to think I have a magic formula for this stuff," Stubler said at the time. "I keep telling people I do it by feel and it's not a controversy unless the press decides to make it one.
"Since I don't read the paper I guess it isn't a controversy. As long as we score enough points to win football games and control the football, I'm good."
But the Argos weren't able to score enough points to win.
The team struggled on the field. Making things worse, the quarterback controversy reportedly divided the dressing room into two camps, one that thought Bishop should start and the other thinking Joseph should start.
The situation came to a head last week when the Argonauts traded Bishop to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Matthews comes to Toronto as the CFL leader in regular-season wins, 231, and tied for the most Grey Cup wins, five. The 69-year old has also coached the B.C. Lions, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Baltimore Stallions, Edmonton Eskimos and, most recently, the Montreal Alouettes.
After going 58-28 with the Alouettes over a four-plus year span, Matthews stepped aside mid-season citing health concerns, later revealed to be anxiety problems.
"At the end I could not put myself on the field anymore, I couldn't go on the field," said Matthews. "That was the end of it. ...
"When I retired at Montreal, I felt that was going to be the end of my career as a football coach. I moved to the States, took up residence in Oregon, I'm with my children and grandchildren and I very much thought it was over."
Medication helped Matthews to control his anxiety issues, something he takes every day.
"At the end of five weeks the anxiety was gone," said Matthews. "But the thing is, I was happy with my career, I really felt I had done enough."
Matthews began his CFL career as an assistant coach in Edmonton in 1977 and was promoted to defensive coordinator the next season. The former U.S. marine would go on to win five straight Grey Cups with the Eskimos from 1978 to 1982.
The native of Amesbury, Mass. and Canadian citizen has only once missed the playoffs, in 1991 when he took over mid-season in Saskatchewan.