Argonauts fire Stubler, bring back Matthews
Blue Bombers' Stegall calls hiring of CFL's winningest coach 'a PR move'
Milt Stegall, the Canadian Football League's all-time touchdown leader, has given the hometown Toronto Argonauts some bulletin board material leading into Friday's game against his Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Stegall was asked his feelings on the Argos' hiring Tuesday of Don Matthews, the league's winningest coach, to replace the fired Rich Stubler.
"I think that's a PR move," the Blue Bombers' outspoken slotback told reporters. "Who knows if the NFL is going to come [to Toronto] and take over, so they want to get a face in there, somebody who's going to bring some enthusiasm and excitement back to Toronto and he [Matthews] can definitely do it."
Nicknamed The Don, Matthews has come out of hiding and is ready to don a headset for a third time with the Argonauts.
He has hardly been heard from since resigning as coach of the Montreal Alouettes on Oct. 4, 2006, citing health reasons.
Matthews began experiencing anxiety problems during the 2006 season and that led to other health issues. Medication was unable to help, prompting him to leave the game.
"At the end I could not put myself on the field anymore, I couldn't go on the field," said Matthews, 69. "That was the end of it.
"When I retired at Montreal, I felt that was going to be the end of my career as a football coach. I moved to the [United] States, took up residence in Oregon, I'm with my children and grandchildren and I very much thought it was over."
But a change in medication helped him better control his anxiety issues. Doctors told Matthews to use the new medicine for five weeks and if successful, he would need a dose a day for the rest of his life.
Five weeks later, the anxiety was gone, but it wasn't enough for Matthews to consider a return to the coaching ranks. That is, until the Argos — and specifically good friend Michael (Pinball) Clemons — came calling.
"I've got some of the best friends of my life in Toronto," said Matthews, referring to Clemons, Argos general manager Adam Rita and offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto.
Matthews has 231 CFL victories on his coaching resume and is tied for the most Grey Cup wins with five. He won another five championship rings as an assistant coach with Edmonton from 1978 to 1982.
"He's the most winningest coach in CFL history so you know he's going to make things happen," said Stegall, who will enter Friday's matchup needing 16 yards to tie Allen Pitts's career receiving yardage record.
"Hopefully after this game, we put a whipping on them and he has to make a lot of changes — that's going to be my plan."
Matthews last coached in Toronto from 1996-98, guiding the Argos to back-to-back Grey Cup triumphs in '96 and '97.
"The big picture was always on my mind — it is imperative that Toronto have a strong franchise on the field," said Matthews. "I have had success here in the past and it is my intention to help do it again."
Matthews a distracting force
An intelligent football mind, Matthews also coached the B.C. Lions, Saskatchewan Roughriders and the now-defunct Baltimore Stallions. He has missed the playoffs just once in his long and decorated CFL coaching career.
Matthews will try to get an inconsistent Argos outfit on track following Sunday's 45-19 pasting at the hands of the Alouettes in Montreal that dropped Toronto's record to 4-6.
He led the Argos to one of the most explosive offensive seasons in franchise history with a club-record 689 points in 1990 and his 42 wins against 30 losses with Toronto is fourth highest in club history.
In all, Matthews holds the league head coaching mark for most games coached (357), most seasons (21), most playoff seasons (18) and most Grey Cup appearances (nine).
Through Matthews's often crusty exterior during his previous CFL stops, many people on the outside saw a man who was egotistical, driven, rude, chauvinistic, abrasive, brilliant and moody.
"That was the great thing about Don," Montreal centre Bryan Chiu told CBCSports.ca in November 2006. "He could distract the media from the players."
Defence, offence struggling
The second-place Argos, who are six points back of the Alouettes in the East Division, have struggled defensively this season — three times allowing more than 40 points — after dominating opposing offences in recent years.
The offence also struggled under Stubler, ranking seventh in the eight-team league in points scored (228). Only the woeful Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been less productive (210 points).
Stubler bought himself some time after Toronto upended Hamilton 34-31 in the Labour Day Classic, but his handling of the Argos was the team's top story of the first half of the season. First, there was the quarterback controversy with Kerry Joseph and the recently traded Michael Bishop, a problem some would say Stubler created on his own.
He was also caught on television lambasting assistant coaches Marcello Simmons and Buratto. There was also the release of veteran safety Orlondo Steinauer, while veteran defenders Michael Fletcher and Michael O'Shea had their roles reduced.
Stubler, who was promoted to head coach of the Argos last December after spending five years overseeing the defence, has coached on four Grey Cup championship teams.
"Rich Stubler is a good football coach," Matthews said. "The reason I'm here is, for whatever reason, the players aren't playing up to their potential."
Expect that to change, given The Don's track record.
With files from the Canadian Press