In the last four games, Argos have opened many eyes with impeccable performances of all three (O, D, ST) of their on-field teams. (We excuse a defensive lapse at the end of the Edmonton game which never really threatened the outcome). Is this because they have better players than the teams they have defeated? Not to take away from the Argo players but significantly superior talent on any CFL team is unlikely considering they all have equal access to a plethora of quality US players who have come just short of making NFL rosters.
Drawing a parallel to the corporate world, success starts at the top with good governance. This leads to excellence at the management level. Professional sports is no different. One needs to look at the other Argo team – the “off-field” team to see where the excellence starts.
But first let’s look at how remarkable this four game streak has been. They have outscored their competition 142 – 77 (almost doubling their opponents’ output). Their offense is operating with an efficiency rarely seen in any league. Ricky Ray has completed 64 of 73 pass attempts. And in his absence, in Zach Collaros’ lone (and first professional) start, he went 21 of 25. Their defense, until late in the second quarter in the Edmonton game, had not given up a significant touchdown over the four game stretch. Chad Owens again is the league’s leader in total yards, with a career long 118 yard return of a wide field goal attempt. It goes on and on.
So how good is our “off-field” team? Let’s start with our owner, David Braley. Most CFL fans are aware that he also owns the BC Lions. Not everyone remembers that he was also the owner of the Hamilton TigerCats. In the case of all three teams, he assumed ownership when the teams were in distressed circumstances. He is a former Chairman of the CFL Board of Governors, as well as interim Commissioner. This is a true CFL champion, as well as a distinguished Canadian (a Senator whose expenses are not in question).
Our CEO is Chris Rudge. As CEO of Quebecor World, he ran an organization that employed over 43,000 employees in 16 countries. Then, he became CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee (2003 – 2010). This is a management super-star.
In GM Jim Barker, we have one of the most experienced football people in Canada. In 1997, as Offensive Coordinator, he was responsible for the juggernaut Argo scoring machine that led to a Grey Cup with Doug Flutie as QB. After a stint in the US, he returned to Canada in 2002 as OC for the Alouettes, helping them to their first Grey Cup in 25 years, and starting the decade-long parade of dominating offenses with Anthony Calvillo at the helm.
Now we start piecing together a team that has many interrelated parts. Head Coach Scott Milanovich worked with Barker in Calgary in 2003. Defensive Coordinator Chris Jones worked with Milanovich in Montreal in 2007, and Barker in Calgary in 2008. Offensive Coordinator Marcus Brady worked with Milanovich in Montreal from 2009 until MIlanovich moved to the Argos in 2012.
The other key player is Special Teams coach Mike O’Shea, who started working with Jim Barker in 2010.
But here’s perhaps the biggest clue to their success. Between the members of the “off-field” team, they have played in and/or coached in 22 Grey Cups. They know to win in the CFL.
Together, they have developed a highly successful philosophy. They select players based on the qualities they cannot teach – athleticism and character. They don’t so much worry about experience and skills because between them, they are able to teach the players how to play in their system. One only has to look at the players they have released over the past two years (Cory Boyd, Ron Flemons, Brandon Isaac, Walter Spencer, Kevin Huntley, Pacino Horne) to realize that they have complete confidence that their scouting program can replace them with superior athletes who fit their system, and their coaches can teach it to them. And, they have the discipline to stick to their philosophy.
Both Coach Milanovich and QB Ricky Ray have warned us that this is a hot streak and not to expect it to continue uninterrupted. They may be right, but in the long run, we have a solid “off-field” team that works in lock step with each other, and that can only help our “on-field” team get better and better.