Now the reflection and soul-searching begins for Jim Barker.
Andre Durie scored two touchdowns and registered his first career 100-yard receiving game (eight catches, 144 yards) as the Toronto Argonauts ended a disappointing season with a 33-16 home win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday night.
Toronto (6-12) earned its first win over Hamilton (8-10) since Sept. 11, 2009 — a streak of six straight losses — and ended the year with two straight wins. But the Argos will finish last in the East Division and miss the playoffs for the third time in four years before a Rogers Centre gathering generously announced at 20,833 spectators.
The Argos head into an important off-season — Toronto hosts the 100th Grey Cup next year — with plenty of questions, not the least of which is Barker's future with the CFL club.
Barker has the dual role of head coach and GM and there has been persistent late-season talk Barker, the CFL's coach of the year in 2010, might have to eliminate one position from his business card this off-season. While Barker admits he still has a burning passion to coach, being the GM would give him much more job security and the flexibility to hand-pick his successor on the sidelines.
"The GM will sit down with the head coach and we'll have a nice discussion about where he's at," Barker said. "But I can tell you this about our head coach: He's going to do exactly what is in the best interests of this organization to win a Grey Cup and if it means he's back coaching then he'll be back coaching and if it means he's not, then he won't.
"That is what you have to understand: It's about winning and when everything is evaluated in the end and when everything comes down, you know what, I know what we need to do. I know what has to be done and I will do what needs to be done to get this franchise to where it needs to be."
That is, after taking a well-deserved vacation, Barker added.
Barker also praised Durie's efforts after the game, something Durie sincerely appreciated.
"It means a lot to me," Durie said. "He has been mentoring me into this position."
Trying season for Barker
Barker conceded the 2011 season was indeed a trying one for him, both professionally and personally. Ultimately a coach is judged by wins and losses and 6-12 simply isn't good enough. But Barker also had to cut ties this season with quarterback Cleo Lemon and defensive co-ordinator Chip Garber, both individuals he recruited.
"It was a difficult year . . . just bizarre things that happened and it made it very difficult," Barker said. "But I honestly believe in every dark cloud there is a silver lining.
"I believe I am a better man and coach for having gone through and maybe I needed to go through this. But I love coming to work every morning and the day I don't, I will step down or the day I believe there is somebody better in that position I will step down and manage the club. I love it [coaching], love game planning and all those things . . . but I don't need to coach. Again, I'm going to look at it. I've had both positions and I'll do what's best for the club."
Durie and Cory Boyd saved their best for last, anchoring a solid fourth-quarter outburst after Hamilton rallied to tie the score 16-16.
Durie's 43-yard TD catch from Bell at 4:27 put Toronto ahead for good at 23-16 before Boyd's six-yard run at 6:43 cemented the victory. It was set up Jasper Simmons' interception return to the Hamilton 12-yard line.
Boyd finished with 105 yards, his 11th career 100-yard game, tying him with Bill Symons for fourth-most in club history.
"This sends a great message that we can finish," Boyd said. "Too bad it came at the end of the year but it shows we have character.
"I wanted my teammates to finish this year strong and set the foundation for next year."
Hamilton (8-10) had already clinched third in the East and will travel to either Montreal or Winnipeg for the conference semifinal next weekend. The Ticats used all three quarterbacks — Kevin Glenn, Quinton Porter and Jason Boltus — in the contest.
"This game doesn't speak much for the playoffs," said Ticats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille. "We had two road games in five days so we kept everything vanilla.
"We almost treated it like an exhibition."
Glenn was the most efficient of Hamilton's quarterbacks, completing 14-of-19 passes for 150 yards. He took a philosophical approach to having played twice in five days.
Bell takes the snaps
"The good thing about playing so close is getting more rest before we play the next one," he said. "The record doesn't really matter too much going into the playoffs, it's about ranking."
Dalton Bell took the majority of snaps for Toronto, replacing the injured Steven Jyles. Bell, slated to become a free agent this off-season, was 12-of-22 passing for 216 yards and two TDs but also had two interceptions.
In 101 pass attempts this season, Bell surrendered 10 interceptions while throwing just three TD strikes.
Toronto slotback Jeremaine Copeland became the 15th player in CFL history to surpass 10,000 all-time receiving yards with a 32-yard catch in the first. But the 11-year veteran finished the year with no TD receptions, a career first.
Porter, who replaced Glenn to open the second half, pulled Hamilton into a 16-16 tie with a five-yard TD strike to Aaron Kelly at 2:42 of the fourth.
Toronto's Noel Prefontaine added three converts and four field goals.
Hamilton's Justin Medlock booted three field goals and a convert.