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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Looking for answers: The Toronto Argonauts; a team in disarray

Jamal Robertson, Willie Pile, Rob Murphy, Dominique Dorsey, Adriano Belli; just some of the big names on Toronto’s roster.

Jonathan Brown, Zeke Moreno, Justin Medlock, Dominic Picard, P.K. Sam; the list goes on.

How does a team packed with this type of talent end up with the worst record in the CFL? The answer is a simple one: Head Coach Bart Andrus.

Of course, it’s too easy to just point the finger at Andrus as the majority of people have. It’s only fair to delve a little deeper into this issue and look at exactly how Andrus is to blame for the mess the Double-Blue currently find themselves in.

The Arland Bruce III saga

The loss of Arland Bruce III for Toronto cannot be underestimated. Without one of the league’s best playmakers, the Argonauts struggled to move the ball all season, no matter who has been behind centre. Meanwhile in Hamilton, Bruce had yet another 1,000-yard receiving season as Hamilton made the playoffs for the first time in five years.

In some respects, Andrus had no choice but to get rid of his disgruntled receiver. Bruce’s behaviour became more and more detrimental to the team with every passing day. Benched for disciplinary reasons, publicly criticising his head coach and starting quarterback, told to stay away from the team and so on.

However, if you look at this objectively, if Bruce was that much of a cancer, why had he managed to ‘survive’ the previous five years in Toronto? This is not to say that there hadn’t been the odd problem with the enigmatic wide receiver previously, but nothing to this extent.

Bruce, a popular person in the Argonauts locker-room, alluded to the fact that other players have also expressed problems with the way Andrus runs the ship. Until recently, no one else had stepped forward to rip the head mans coaching style, but you only have to look at the product on the field to come to your own conclusions on this issue.

Bart Andrus: the offensive ‘genius’

Handicapped by the loss of their number one wide receiver, Toronto struggled through the air all year, ranking second last, just ahead of Winnipeg. Overall, the team averaged under 300-yards a game (last in the league), unforgivable in a league which is renowned for it’s explosive offensive football.

When you consider that Bart Andrus was brought in for his offensive mind, this is very worrying. For anyone saying that he is limited by the talent-level on offence, this is once more another reason why the Argonauts should have tried harder to resolve the Bruce issue.

Another baffling and frustrating issue was Andrus’s stubborn refusal to use the running game more. Robertson has proved to be one of the more effective rushers in the league and can be very productive, when given the opportunity.

I appreciate that the CFL is a passing league, but if the team is not moving the ball consistently through the air and has a runner capable of churning out the yards, give him the rock.

The Starting Quarterback

Talking of the CFL being a passing league, the quarterback situation was a nightmare throughout 2009. After Bruce was traded away to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the team only managed to win one more game in the rest of the season.

Kerry Joseph, the very player who Bruce said needed to get his act together, was replaced in the line-up by Cody Pickett, hardly a world-beater. Further down the line, despite Andrus stating that Pickett was still the main man he was replaced by Joseph in a couple of games before the latter ‘won’ back his starting job.

There is no doubting that Joseph was struggling in the early games, but surely the production of the offence in general throughout 2009 shows you cannot put all of the blame on his shoulders. Again, this is a worrying sign when you consider Andrus’s offensive reputation.

It appears obvious that the offensive scheme does not suit the personnel on the roster. Surely it is up to the head coach to revamp the system and try to get more out of the players at his disposal. Least we forget Joseph was the MOP of the CFL in 2007.

Interestingly, it’s also worth noting that Joseph, renowned as a team guy, publicly stepped forward to criticise Andrus’s handling of the quarterback position.

Another CFL All-Star traded away

Another sign that all was not well in Argoland was the move to trade cornerback Byron Parker to the Edmonton Eskimos. Parker was unhappy about the amount of playing time, or lack thereof that he had received since rejoining the team.

Here is a guy who had played four seasons previously for the Argonauts, nabbing 18 interceptions and making 101 tackles.

Now you could understand if it was just a matter of the cornerback struggling to break into a secondary, which had helped the Argonauts to the second-ranked defence in the league. However, this was not the case.

Interestingly, Andrus declared that Parker would see more playing time once he was familiar with the system. And yet, the two-time all-star contradicted this statement, advising that the scheme was not that hard to pick up, comparing it to a Pop Warner football level.

So once again, a productive player who had been perfectly happy with the organisation in previous years’, suddenly had a change in attitude and another all-star was shipped out. Coincidence, I think not. Clearly, Andrus has not coped well with the change from the NFL scene.

Discipline…or lack thereof

Andrus promised that he would run a tight ship and discipline would be of the highest order. This in part explained his reasoning behind getting rid of Bruce.

However, this so-called strict approach did not appear to work. The Argonauts were penalised more times than anyone else, for the most yards (208-1804.)

Nowhere was this lack of discipline more evident than the week 13 loss in Winnipeg. In a game, which featured several scuffles, the worst incident occurred during the fourth quarter. A turnover by Toronto turned into mayhem as players shoved and fought with each other, ending in four players being ejected.

Overall, 12 players were fined by the CFL, including seven Argonauts. If the team on the field is a reflection of the head coach’s work off it, then this incident sums up Andrus’s reign in Toronto.


The organisation needs to make some big changes in the off-season to turn this team around and bring it back up to where it belongs. This includes sacking Bart Andrus, who is out of his depth in the CFL as a head coach.

Two consecutive disastrous seasons is unacceptable for a team with a proud tradition, including the most Grey Cup victories in CFL history.

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