Saturday, September 27, 2008

SPORTS: Heads Gotta Roll

It's abundantly clear that the Toronto Argos are not headed back to the playoffs. In fact, it's likely that the Argos will finish last overall. And I don't think its too soon to start clearing out the old guard.

Frankly, one of, if not both, of GM Adam Rita and offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto, should be fired after tonight's debacle in the home half of a hack-to-back with the Calgary Stampeders. As was mentioned during the game, there is very little to recommend downgrading player personnel to match a system. It's ALWAYS best to put the best player on the field and then change the system to suit the talent.

Toronto hasn't done that.

First, Buratto has presided over a diminishing offence that has had most, if not all of its best results, when Buratto was NOT calling the plays. Buratto's offence has stifled what offensive talent Toronto does possess, trying to harness quarterbacks Kerry Joseph, Michael Bishop and Cody Pickett in a pocket protected by arguably the league's least talented offensive line. Add to that a litany of dropped passes by a fumble-fingered receiving crew and you have a series of sub-20 point offensive efforts that has managed to go under 10 points a handful of games. What's one definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

Frankly, Buratto has not demonstrated a whit of offensive flair in getting game-breakers like Arland Bruce III, Dominique Dorsey and even Joseph into good positions to use their talents. Hiding the O-line's weakenesses with shifting pockets and misdirection seems beyond Buratto's scope to teach.

However, throughout the analysis of Buratto's failings, it is also obvious that the Argos have a talent deficit, largely caused by the sudden aging of defensive stalwarts (Steinauer, Shaw, Fletcher, O'Shea and others) combined with a truly misguided trade for Joseph. I imagine the latter was done at the urging of the ownership group, who were disenchanted to not play host to the home team in the Grey Cup last year. But Rita shouldn't have given in. It's hurt his club badly in a number of ways. Not the least of which was trading Jordan Younger to Edmonton to help pay Joseph's salary. Compounding that mistake by giving Bishop away, turning the trade into Bishop AND a badly needed Glenn January for Joseph, should make Rita's hotseat combustible.

First, Bishop, 11-1 in the regular season last year, had half the room in his corner. Maybe more. Joseph didn't come in and OUTPLAY Bishop, but he got the starting nod and didn't lose it until well after Bishop was traded away to try and take one distraction out of the room. I think you can safely say that Joseph still hasn't put together eight good quarters of ball this season. And four of those were in one game. On the other hand, if you could dream up a worse offensive scheme for Joseph to run, I would be shocked. You cannot make a scrambler become a pocket passer when his talents are simply unsuited for the concept.

Without the signing of Joseph and the 400 grand he takes up on the payroll, would the Argos have had the money to sign an American lineman or two, let alone keep all-star DB Younger? Of course they would have. Would keeping Bishop have ensured offensive success? Of course not. But Bishop has won more often than he's lost, by a wide margin in this league. He was commited to Toronto. He was maturing. AND he fit the offence Buratto was building. No square pegs in round holes. He fit everything but management's ideal of a Grey Cup-winning quarterback.

There's something noble about GOING for it, not accepting being very good, but being willing to take the risks it takes to be the champion. (See Tannenbaum, Larry of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment ... NOT!) But this seemed completely and utterly too big a risk. Add to it the inability to convince Michael Clemons to stay on the sideline, rather than moving to the President's office. The installation of a rookie head coach, the now-fired Rich Stubler. The installation of a rookie defensive co-ordinator, Kavis Reed, who keeps off the firing line simply by being less worse than the two firing squad candidates already talked about.

It's all added up to a team in disarray. One that Don Matthews should start building towards next year. Right now. This season's lost.

So play Cody Pickett and trade/release Kerry Joseph. Or play Joseph and change the offence. That means dumping Buratto and installing a Matthews offence tout suite. Trade Michael Fletcher and offer Mike O'Shea a chance to play elsewhere or retire an Argo. Give Canuck kids like Jeff Johnson and Andre Durie and Brian Crawford playing time and chances to outlive mistakes. Bring in new linebacker candidates until you have four starting quality candidates and a backup or two. Mayes and Pile look like half the solution. More athletes are needed. Find American linemen, too small for NFL teams outside of Denver, but quick enough to play the Canadian game. start raiding other team's practice rosters, forcing them to roster the player or let him try out in Toronto. If that means re-assigning Rita to scouting, then do it.

The one thing the Argos can't do, is adopt the head-in-the-sand policy favoured by the Leafs and the Blue Jays. Things won't get better, JUST because they are TORONTO's teams. There's nobody legislating success for the double blue, blue and white or the hated black and blue. You have to EARN it. And as good a guy as Rita is (and Buratto probably is), the only thing they've earned, is a pink slip.

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