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CFL

Argonauts need to keep GM Jim Barker around

By Frank Zicarelli, Toronto Sun

Toronto Argonauts general manager Jim Barker. (DAVE ABEL/Toronto Sun)

Toronto Argonauts general manager Jim Barker. (DAVE ABEL/Toronto Sun)

Jim Barker likes Rob Ford, would watch American Sniper tonight if asked to indulge in movie viewing, lists Seinfeld as his favourite TV show and is a bad golfer, even though he enjoys the activity.

Those are among the revelations the Toronto Argonauts GM made during an Internet chat with fans on Wednesday, a two-hour exercise that involved Barker fielding 70 questions ranging from the serious to the off-beat.

The Argos have a lot on their plate, but one must be to keep Barker in Toronto beyond this season.

He’s both an ambassador for the city and the CFL and a top-level football executive who deserves an extension.

In Barker’s world, he doesn’t care which direction this franchise goes when he knows it’s completely out of his control.

He has no say in how David Braley conducts his business and can’t bring together his absentee owner and MLSE to hammer out a lease deal at BMO.

What Barker knows is football and building champions.

The Argos have taken more than a step back since their 2012 Grey Cup championship, but many of the issues do not involve Barker.

When teams win, the opposition scoops in on talent, especially in the coaching ranks.

When players are looking for a bigger pay day, they exercise free agency and walk by following the money.

Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, Barker isn’t going to fret over his future in football.

The moment the Argos decide to part company with him, if that’s the path they eventually take, Barker will soon find employment.

He’s that well-regarded.

It was Barker who brought in head coach Scott Milanovich and it was Barker who pulled off the trade with Edmonton to bring Ricky Ray to Toronto.

In football, there’s no more important a role than a GM, coach and quarterback and yet in Toronto all three are heading into the final year of their deals, perhaps a sign that a long-awaited sale was anticipated allowing a new owner to map his own future.

But the present featured Barker yesterday in an Internet chat where a variety of football and non-football matters were broached with Argos fans.

“Afternoon Mr. B, (keep up the good work!),’’ chimed one fan.

“Consistency is key, and Ricky Ray is one of the best QBs in the league. As he enters the final year of his contract, can you comment on the importance of keeping Ricky in Double Blue? If that is indeed your intention.’’

Replied Barker: “Absolutely. Ricky Ray is perfect for this offence. He and Scott have formed a tight bond and signing 1 will probably help to signing the other.”

Speaking of Milanovich, another fan wanted Barker to address the future of the head coach.

“There have been a number of rumours this off-season that Scott Milanovich may not return as head coach of the Argos beyond 2015, or that he feels unhappy in his current role. Could you address that speculation?’’ the fan asked.

“I can tell you for sure he’s not unhappy,’’ replied Barker. “Speculation is ... what speculation is.”

Invariably, the team’s future playing home was raised.

The consensus was best summed up in this exchange.

“Hey Jim, I’m an Argos fan, but this stadium situation is in dire straits. I’m sure you’d agree that the dome isn’t an ideal place for the team, the turf’s awful, it’s hard to build any fan atmosphere, etc. What are your feelings on the matter, and on possibly moving to BMO?”

Replied Barker to the fan’s query: “Well, obviously we’re hopeful for some positive resolutions soon.”

Another exchange went as follows.

“Given the fact that the team failed to make the playoffs last season, you, as GM should be looking to improve the team in all areas possible. Will that include at least entertaining the idea of replacing Chad Owens as KR/PR? As he has been rather sub-par in that role the last number of seasons.”

Barker then replied with the following: “If you don’t learn from history, you’re bound to repeat it. Injuries have been an issue the last two years. Chad is vital to our offence. He loves returning punts. But hopefully someone can step in and take some of the burden off his shoulders.”

Wide receivers and defensive backs are Barker’s off-season priorities, he told fans.

Football’s hot-button topic of concussions was raised as well.

“Given everything you know about concussions, injuries, and long-term health effects that can result from the sport, would you let your children play football?”

Replied Barker: “I have a 10-year-old grandson who is very excited about playing football. While I understand the risks, I also have seen the benefits. I’m excited to watch him play.”

ARGOS HOPING TO CATCH SOME HELP

The Argonauts continue to load up on International receivers, hoping quantity will one day be parlayed into quality.

The latest to join the team is Vidal Hazelton, a much-hyped prospect coming out of high school whose most recent football experience involved the Fall Experimental Football League, where he played for the Boston Brawlers.

By all accounts, Hazelton is an athletic receiver who played three seasons at Southern Cal, ending his NCAA run at Cincinnati.

In Hazelton’s junior year with the Trojans in 2007, he posted his best statistical season, catching 50 passes for 540 yards and four TDs in 11 games. His NFL foray included stops with the Chargers, Bengals, Titans and Jets.

Hazelton becomes the fifth International receiver whom the Argos have signed this off-season.

There could be as many as 10 International receivers at camp with the only certainty involving Chad Owens.

The lack of depth involves Canadian receivers, the Boatmen taking a hit when Spencer Watt bolted to Hamilton in free agency, while running back/slot back Anthony Woodson soon followed the wideout to Tigertown.

Someone needs to emerge as a returner, an area the Argos could not address last season. During his Internet chat, GM Jim Barker mentioned the likes of Mike Thomas, Kashif Moore, Darryl Surgent, Anthony McClung and Dionte Spencer as potential return candidates.

“All were outstanding returners in college,’’ Barker said, or in this case, wrote. “We hope one can step forward in training camp.”

Each of the above are receivers. McClung and Thomas were signed this off-season.


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