Argos name Pinball Clemons as Popp's replacement: 'We want to build excellence'
The Toronto Argonauts named Michael 'Pinball' Clemons, maybe the CFL's most popular personality, as the team's 20th general manager in franchise history on Tuesday, replacing Jim Popp.
The Argos also announced that John Murphy will serve as the vice-president of player personnel in partnership with Clemons as the duo aims to turn Toronto's CFL team around after back-to-back dismal seasons. The 54-year-old Clemons has been the Argonauts' vice-chairman since 2008, but now takes a more prominent role as the GM.
TSN.ca takes a look at Clemons' life in Canadian football with the Argonauts.
Getting into Football
Pinball started playing football around the age of eight for the Dunedin Golden Eagles in his hometown of Dunedin, Fla. He continued to play many sports during his high school years, but finally decided on football as the sport he'd pursue fully since it was his best shot at an university scholarship.
Eventually, Clemons accepted an offer from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., over prestigious Harvard University, partly because Harvard did not offer athletic scholarships.
Clemons dominated as a running back and kick returner, ending his college career as the school's all-time leader in all-purpose yards with 4,448 and touchdowns with 20. He recorded an incredible 3,833 yards in his final season in 1985-86 and was inducted into the W&M Hall of Fame in 1998.
Brief NFL Career
Despite his diminutive stature (5-foot-5, 170 pounds) the NFL still took a chance on him after the Kansas City Chiefs selected Clemons in the eighth round, 218th overall, of the 1987 Draft.
Pinball appeared in eight games with the Chiefs during the 1987 campaign, returning 19 punts for 162 yards and just two rushes for seven yards.
To the north and a nickname that sticks
When it was apparent the NFL wasn't a fit for Clemons, the speedster inked a deal with the Argonauts in 1989.
Clemons got his famous 'Pinball' nickname from head coach Bob O’Billovich during his rookie season thanks to his excellent ability at staying up on his feet all while bouncing off bruising defenders.
“People had tried so many times to give me nicknames and nothing ever stuck,” Clemons said. “When he said that, I was like, ‘That’s kind of neat and maybe a little bit appropriate.’” I’m better known for that name than the name my mom gave me. It’s been an endearing moniker.”
Prolific Career with the Argos
Clemons truly broke out during his sophomore year with the Argos in 1990, recording 519 yards and four touchdowns as a rusher alongside 905 yards and eight touchdowns as a receiver. Clemons also racked up 1,876 yards as a punt and kick returner, tallying a total of 3,300 all-purpose yards, which was a pro football record at the time. He won his first and only CFL Most Outstanding Player award in 1990 as well.
Then in 1997, Clemons broke his own all-purpose yards record with 3,840 yards.
Over his decade in Toronto, Pinball, alongside fan favourite Doug Flutie, became one of the league's most popular and electric players, leading the Argos to three Grey Cup titles (1991, 1996, 1997) and made two All-Star teams (1990, 1997).
In 1999, Pinball reached 5,000 yards in career totals for rushing, receiving, kick returning and punt returning, becoming the first pro football player in history to accomplish the feat. Clemons is second all-time in Argos' touchdowns and rushing yards with 85 and 5,232, respectively. He also holds the record for most career receptions with the Double Blue (682).
Clemons' CFL Stats
|Year||Team||GP||Rush YDs||Rush TDs||Rec YDs||Rec TDs||KR YDs||KR TDs||PR YDs||PR Tds|
He played his last game in the CFL on Sept. 15, 2000, finishing with 25,438 total yards.
Clemons' No. 31 is retired by the team and he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
Success on the Sidelines
After retiring halfway through the 2000 season, Clemons coached the Argos for the rest of the campaign and all of 2001, missing the postseason both times.
In 2002, Clemons briefly left the sidelines for the front office as team president, but quickly returned following a 4-8 start. Pinball helped Toronto book a playoff spot that year and in 2003 before making history in 2004.
The Argonauts finished second in the East Division with a 10-7-1 regular season record and then made it all the way to the Grey Cup where they defeated the BC Lions 27-19 as Clemons became the first black coach to win a CFL title.
Clemons sported a 68-55-1 coaching record after he retired from his position in 2007. Known for his great ability to motivate and inspire, Pinball was nominated for Coach of the Year every season between 2003 and 2006.
Outside of Football
After his playing and coaching days, Clemons remained in the spotlight in Toronto and across Canada as a public speaker and does community work through the Pinball Clemons Foundation.
Clemons received Canadian citizenship in 2015.