Rejuvenated Matthews a good choice to revive Argos
Tuesday, September 9, 2008 | 06:12 PM ET
Those words came from an Argonaut player, but could have been spoken by just about anyone in the CFL. Don Matthews is back, two years after walking away for what we thought was the last time.
Matthews revealed that he quit the Alouettes because of anxiety attacks, going to owner Robert Wetenhall, president Larry Smith and general manager Jim Popp, saying he couldn’t do it anymore.
“That’s true,” Popp said by phone on Tuesday. “We told him that we wanted him to stay ... that even some Don Matthews is better than no Don Matthews.”
The coach lasted six more weeks. He quit after a 23-20 victory over Winnipeg on Sept. 29, 2006. He called two fake kicks that game, saying he couldn’t believe the agony he went through in trying them. And The Don was never afraid to gamble.
“That time, I called them with a doctor on the phone. I told them I had to quit,” he said.
Matthews joked during the media conference about how he always said he’d end his coaching career in a “puff of smoke.” He’d tell everyone that when he was finished, he’d just disappear, allowing no one to find him.
He did that. Oh, his good friends were welcome to say hello, but, generally, Matthews was in the cone of silence. Several times last season, the CFL on CBC tried to reach him for an interview, only to be politely rebuffed. He was keeping his promise, harder to find than an unbiased American political commentator.
Return of the old Don
What changed? His medication. I’m admittedly sketchy on the details, since Matthews himself didn’t know the name of it, but, apparently, the coach was presented with a different form of “cocktail” than before. Matthews did say he was told to take it every day for five weeks, and began to feel better.
Both Popp and Argonauts vice-president and general manager Adam Rita could tell the difference.
“He was the Don I knew,” said Rita, who choked up briefly when discussing Matthews’ illness. “The confidence, the self-assurance, the clear vision.”
“I’m surprised, but I’m not shocked (about his return),” added Popp. “How many times has Don shocked people in his life? But I’m happy for him, because that’s not how his career should have ended. He deserves a chance to finish this way.”
His chance comes because Pinball Clemons wanted no part of the sideline. While Clemons would not discuss whether or not he was specifically asked to return, he did admit, “It was not a consideration for me.”
Rita also declined the job, saying, “I don’t have the desire to do that at this level. The passion I have to be here is in the position I have right now.”
That led to Matthews, who was first asked about the possibility of replacing Rich Stubler about a week ago. There is a rumour that he had discussions with Hamilton before Charlie Taaffe was fired, but Matthews denied that, and so did Tiger-Cats president Scott Mitchell. (Matthews did say the potential Ottawa franchise contacted him about being a consultant.)
It’s a crucial time for the 4-6 Argonauts. It is not, however, unexpected, since many of the players who formed the core of the CFL’s best defence and special teams from 2004-06 are either gone or aging. Every team needs to turn over.
This is Toronto’s time.
Unfortunately, the Argonauts are in a brutal spot, with the Buffalo Bills looming. Without the NFL, maybe Rich Stubler gets his chance to straighten things out. But ownership can’t afford to wait. It’s the reality of the situation.
That’s why The Don’s Batphone started ringing and why he was willing to come.
“I’ve got friends over here who are dying,” he said, referring to Rita, Clemons and offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto, a college teammate.
Is he up to the task?
Matthews is a good choice to perform CPR, and, let’s face it: the Argonauts go for headlines. Whether it’s Ricky Williams or Kerry Joseph or Mike Vanderjagt, this is the kind of move they like to make. Make news, get noticed. Everyone certainly noticed this.
The question is: Can Matthews still do it?
He admitted he’s seen maybe two games this year. He admitted he doesn’t really know the personnel very well. But, “It’s not rocket science and I will catch up.” Not by taping other teams’ practices, however. “The CFL has rules against that now,” he laughed.
The stunningly bad Blue Bombers and incredibly disappointing Tiger-Cats give Matthews time to tinker. He can use the last eight games to get ready for the playoffs, knowing the East will have to be won en Montreal.
He may not be the most popular guy, but the CFL is more interesting with him around. He’s energized, he’s refreshed, and, if he’s still the same guy, will cut someone to send another Steinauer-sized shockwave through the room. (At least, you can expect a change at safety, where Kenny Wheaton is not his kind of guy at that position.) Don’t think for a second he had nothing to do with all of those Argonaut arrivals on Monday.
I’m just not sure a late-season airlift will fix the problem. But Matthews loves this. Tell me I can’t do something, he’s always said, and I’ll prove you wrong.
You could see by his smile. He’s ready to show us again.
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About the Author
Elliotte Friedman is the host of the CFL ON CBC. Prior to being named host in 2006, Friedman worked on the CFL on CBC broadcasts for the three seasons as a sideline reporter. A Toronto native, Friedman is well known for his additional work on Hockey Night in Canada, as well as his presence on the Torino 2006 Winter Games telecasts as a hockey reporter. Prior to joining the CBC, Friedman worked at The Score network and was widely regarded as one of the best reporters in the country. Friedman used his reporting skills to break stories and file feature reports for high profile events including six Stanley Cup Finals, four Grey Cup Championships, two World Series and one Olympic Games. He is also a regular on the nationally syndicated Prime Time Sports radio telecast, hosted by Bob McCown.
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