It came too early this year, the reality that there will be no back-to-back Grey Cup championships for the Toronto Argonauts.
At the beginning of the season the overwhelming majority of pundits thought the Argos would find themselves perched atop the East Division, unless of course Hamilton had a great season, then second place would be theirs for the taking.
This serves as another lesson that predictions are a fool’s game. Nobody saw a 3-11 season coming, nobody saw the impending quantity of injuries to the quality of players.
Everything went right in 2017, especially in the stretch run. This year the team couldn’t buy a break.
That doesn’t mean the 2018 season is over, far from it. There are still four games to be played, a quartet of games that will be under close scrutiny by both the coaching staff and the front office.
“We’re trying to build a great foundation for sustained success,” General Manager Jim Popp told Argonauts.ca, acknowledging that the football operations staff is in full evaluation mode.
“We’ve got four weeks here to continue fine tuning our team to know what we have going into the off-season,” he continued. “It helps us in the mindset of which direction we want to go with some players. Everybody is being evaluated to be better, so hopefully we don’t have another year like this, we can bounce back and win a Grey Cup in 2019, and we know that can be done.”
Historically, Popp has done what the GM does and let his coaches do what they do. Not a micromanager, he rounds up the talent and lets the coaching staff work its magic. With that said, there’s a constant discussion about what’s working and what isn’t, and there was also some talk about what was going to happen if and when the team was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
“We said if we get to a point where we’re not in the playoff hunt anymore we need to look at some people,” admitted Popp. “We need to find out what some guys can do who aren’t seeing the field, or haven’t been playing as much, or coming off an injury that need to get back on the field.”
Winning is in a coach’s DNA. If there’s a line in the sand between playing for a ‘W’ and player evaluation there’s little doubt which side of the line successful coaches will be standing. With that said, Argos Head Coach Marc Trestman says the players are constantly being graded.
“We’re not going to play guys to evaluate them,“ the coach confirmed. “We’re going to play guys because they can help us win the game and they’re getting evaluated each and every day.”
The coach would concede that their place in the standings gives them a chance to get a look at some players who have been around for some time an opportunity to get into a game and see some live action.
“I think we’ll know a little bit more (after Wednesday’s practice) whether we get Evan Foster up this week for instance, he hasn’t had any playing time this year and certainly deserves the opportunity to play. We’ve just go to look at where our injury situation is.”
Trestman’s record as a CFL head coach is impressive. In his first six seasons he won three Grey Cups, the first two in Montreal before winning it again last year, his first in Toronto. His teams finished in first place in five of those six seasons, so results like this aren’t the norm, but that hasn’t tempered his enthusiasm.
“I get excited for everything,” the coach admitted to Argonauts.ca. “I’m excited to see where our team can go right now. I know we’re not playoff bound, I know we’re not championship bound, but the development of our team is important right now and it’s a test for all of us, our character and our professionalism each and every day to go out there and be at our best. Up to this point I’m extremely proud of our football team, the way they’ve handled themselves.”
The players’ commitment to succeed hasn’t escaped the eye of the general manager, who is also curious to see how the group responds to the reality of the standings.
“I think it’s very important these next four weeks to watch the mentality and the effort and the wont in everybody to get better,” said Popp. “We’ve seen zero quit in anybody. Everybody is working their tail off, everybody’s playing hard, everybody’s trying hard, and we need to see that for the next four weeks.”
He also said that an off-season major rebuild is not needed.
“We don’t have to go totally back to the drawing board, what we need to do is improve what we have.”