Around the CFL: August 9, 2006

<p>The unthinkable was mentioned the other night. It came from a voice on the radio while I was driving, and I couldn't believe my ears.</p>


The unthinkable was mentioned the other night.


It came from a voice on the radio while I was driving, and I couldn't believe my ears.


What I could have used right then and there, of course, was a Q-Tip, but none was readily available so instead I resorted to turning up the volume -- and thenI heard it again. And then again.


The voice belonged to Dave Randorf, a talking head on TSN's broadcasts of Canadian Football League games. He was chatting with Norm Rumack, the tireless shock jock on The Fan 590 in Toronto, and he repeatedlysuggested that -- brace yourself -- Michael (Pinball)Clemons could be fired as the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts.

Randorf is from Vancouver, I understand, so he can be excused for notcomprehending just what Clemons means in Toronto. But asa Globe and Mail guy wrote the other day: "While Clemons ultimately bears some responsibility for Toronto's woes, his status as a Toronto sports icon provides him with more job security than the average CFL coach."

It's true. The Argos' owners and club president Keith Pelley have made more than their share of mistakes this season (the recruitment of suspended NFLer Ricky Williams comes to mind quickly), but they won't commit political suicide by firing Clemons.

The Argos have deteriorated into something of a circus act this season, with plenty of clowns and freaks in the show, but Clemons will become the ex-coach when he wants to become the ex-coach, and only then.

And when he leaves, possibly after this season, he'll start preparing to become the mayor of Toronto, a position he'll capture in a landslide election.

And the next head coach of the Argos, possibly next season, will be Doug Flutie.

I kid you not.

I'm told Kent Austin was fired as the Argos' offensive co-ordinator this week only after complaints were made about him to the club's brass by veteran quarterback Damon Allen.

Despite Allen's ascent last season to outstanding-player status in the CFL under Austin, I'm told he criticized Austin's methods repeatedly to Clemons and general manager Adam Rita this season. Rita is Allen's former coach in B.C., and he will run the Toronto offence the rest of the season.

And I hear Allen has let it be known that he would like to ultimately become the Argos' offensive co-ordinator when he retires, which likely will be after this season.

The Montreal Alouettes are undefeated at 7-0, but they haven't exactly been dominant or impressive.

Imagine where this team would be without Robert Edwards. Here was a running back who was told by doctors during his NFL days that his knee was destroyed and that he'd never be able to resume his playing career.

After reconstructive surgery and more than a year out of football, however, Edwards joined the Als last season and has excelled this season, leading the league with 10 touchdowns. He is on pace to erase Milt Stegall's record for touchdowns in a season (23).

You could argue that Edwards, not quarterback Anthony Calvillo, is the Als'top player this season.

The Als, by the way, also catapulted to 7-0 starts in 1997 and 2002 -- and they won the Grey Cup in both seasons.

No team in the CFL is deeper than the B.C. Lions.

Bob O'Billovich, the team's player-personnel director and my former colleague during our days together on TSN's CFL panel last decade, has established himself as the finest talent-finder in the league.

Receiver Jason Clermont suffered a knee injury early in the season, but O'Billovich's recruits have filled in admirably.

The Lions even have a decent backup quarterback, something few other CFL teams can say.

When Dave Dickenson injured an ankle last week, Buck Pierce came in and was brilliant, leading the Lions to a triumph over the Edmonton Eskimos.

B.C. receiver Geroy Simon, incidentally, is making a strong case for himself as the Western Division's outstanding player.

He has 51 catches for 881 yards and eight touchdowns, and hasn't found a defender yet who can cover him.

So Joe Montford, the veteran defensive lineman whose sack totals will ultimately land him in theCanadian FootballHall of Fame,was dumped this week for the second time this season by the beleagueredEskimos, and he was peeved.

"I am not happy and kind of disappointed," he told reporters."I felt that a guy like myself - who has been in the league for a while - deserved a little bit more professionalism about the wholesituation."

What really irked him was that he was cut via telephone instead of in person.

"To call a guy like myself over the phone and say you are released without even bringing me in and talking to me and letting me know whatthe situation was... That is more hurtful than anything, considering I dropped everything I had to do in order to come here."

Montford was right. The Esks talk about being a classy organization a lot, but, while they talk the talk, they don't walk the walk.

Consider the difference in Saskatchewan, where Roughriders head coach Danny Barrett personally visited the home of defensive halfback Darnell Edwards this week to let him know that he'd been cut.

The Esks are, well, screwed up badly.

The 2-5 start of theirs is their worst in 34 years.

"It's beginning to be a mystery," lamented Edmonton head coach Danny Maciocia, who only last season led the Esks to the Grey Cup championship. "I can't figure it out."

Well, he'd better figure it out, and soon, or he's gone.

Funny how theories emerge when a team wallows in abyss.

Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray is suggesting that his team's offensive formations must change. Running back Troy Davis thinks the play selectionshave beenpoor.

Oh, and then there's the defence. It gives up more than its share of big plays. Defensive halfback Reggie Durden, once called the best in the CFL by his former coach in Montreal, Don Matthews, has been benched. And there's word that DB Donny Brady could be on his way back after the Esks cut him earlier this season.

Now that was a mystery. Folks still can't understand why the Esks cut Brady when all he was in the past was solid and dependable.

And, speaking of questionable cuts in Edmonton, the Esks dumped Canadian running back Dahrran Diedrick, who was snapped up by the Als and carried the ball four times last week for 44 yards.

Compare that to Troy Davis, who carried the ball 12 times for 45 yards last week.

The aforementioned Danny Barrett was on the sidelines for his 135th CFL game as the Roughriders' head coach last Saturday, a 23-7 loss to the Calgary Stampeders, moving him past Eagle Keys forSaskatchewan'slead in overall games. In 134 games between 1965-70, Keys had a winning percentage was .672. Barrett's winning percentage in Saskatchewan is .463. You cannot say the Roughriders haven't given Barrett enough time to prove himself.

One of those CFL fan web sites -- invited Winnipeg fans to suggest nicknames for the Blue Bombers' standout defensive line, and there were sensible recommendations such as the Blueline Wall, the Furious Four, Gold Rush and things like that.

But one wise guy came up with "Four Guys Who Can't Stop Ranek," a reference to Josh Ranek's dominating performance in Winnipeg last week.

Ranek led the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a victory by picking up 233 yards from the line of scrimmage and 169 yards on the ground.

No other player has rushed for even 100 yards against the Bombers this season.

Yes, there's something wrong in the CFL, and here's what I had to say about it in a York Report I filed to Metro newspapers across Canada earlier this week:

I wear prescription glasses, but I must need laser eye surgery because I simply cannot believe what I've been seeing in the CFL in 2006.

Or perhaps I should say I can't believe what Ihaven't been seeing.

I haven't been seeing many touchdowns or nearly enough long, exciting plays, as I saw regularly and routinely in past CFL seasons.

And it isn’t as if I’ve been seeing exceptional defence this season.

What I've been seeing -- unless my eyes have been deceiving me -- is brutal, boring, bewildering and bad football, where offences generally are inept and unimaginative and generally beating themselves.

The pathetic performances continued again this past weekend, when the Argonauts were able to produce only one touchdown (on an interception) for the second consecutive week, when Winnipeg could manage only one TD (on its first drive) and when Saskatchewan couldn't even find the end zone at all.

The Argos followed up their embarrassment by firing their offensive co-ordinator, Kent Austin, as if he were to blame for the club's foolish recruitment of suspended NFLer Ricky Williams or for its failure to find a capable backup quarterback for injured grandpa Damon Allen.

Edmonton, like Toronto, is a wretched 2-5, and the Eskimos' new scapegoat is Joe Montford, the star defensive lineman whom they cut before the season and brought back. Well, they've whacked him again, this time for good. Montford was 22 sacks away from the CFL record. Edmonton has a lousy defence, too, which is weird when you consider how lamentable CFL offences are. (For their defensive woes, the Esks should be blaming their defensive co-ordinator, Rick Campbell, but how likely is that? I mean, his father is club chief Hugh Campbell.)

The reasons for CFL boredom in '06 have become clear:

  • QBs are getting old and hurt and there are only a couple of decent backup QBs in the league.

  • Offensive players, particularly QBs, cannot get used to the heavier footballs being used in the CFL this season.

  • New blocking rules were instituted on kick and punt returns this season and they've negated long and dramatic runs.

The CFL simply must take steps soon to revive itself and become entertaining again.

Bring in some good new quarterbacks. Bring back the old footballs. Bring back the old blocking rules.

The CFL that I've been seeing in the first half of the season has been plain awful, and I have never said that before.

And I never thought I’d be saying this, either: I can’t wait for the NFL season to start.

Message from Marty York:

After about three decades of covering the CFL in newspapers, magazines, on national television and on radio, the folks who run Metro newspapers have given me the opportunity to report on the league in a new and efficient way -- online, right here at

. Here, I will have the space and freedom to cover the league the way that will best serve you. My reports will be updated at least twice a week and will include information you're not likely to find elsewhere. I will also give you my weekly CFL picks. And I welcome email from CFL fans -- send them to

. I'll publish some from time to time. I'm very excited about this venture, and I hope you will be, too.

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