TORONTO (Aug. 1) — Ryan Dinwiddie may not be the worst coach in my 53 years watching the Toronto Argonauts (he’s close). McLeod Bethel–Thompson may not be the worst quarterback during that time (he’s close).
Jointly, however, they form the most–inept duo — among many since 1969 — these eyes have witnessed.
Neither will the abysmal Canadian Football League team improve until one is replaced and other other released.
Abandoned by ownership; leaderless on the sideline and the pitch, the Argonauts went full–Gong Show on Sunday at BMO Field — a football game turned fiasco in front of more than 10,000 live spectators and a nationwide audience on TSN. The 23–13 loss to the winless Ottawa RedBlacks was a sidebar to the hijinks that evolved in the fourth quarter, embarrassing the club and its 148–year legacy. It began with Toronto trailing, 16–13, and with Ottawa facing third–and–long deep in Argo territory. A field goal would have kept it a one–score game. Instead, defensive lineman Wynton McManis lost his marbles and threw the cleat of a RedBlacks player after the whistle.
The bizarre and richly earned objectionable conduct penalty provided the visitors a first down, whereupon quarterback Caleb Evans hit receiver Nate Behar with a seven–yard touchdown pass. No club with a modicum of discipline would commit such a remarkably stupid blunder. To further illustrate that Dinwiddie cannot control his players, objectionable conduct infractions followed on the next two plays. Toronto’s Chris Edwards evidently believed he’d been disqualified from the match. He ran the full length of the field — from the south end to the home dressing room in the northeast part of the stadium. At which point, a staff member was hastily dispatched from the bench, sprinting full–out along the back line of the end zone to retrieve the AWOL defensive back. Upon returning, and rather than showing remorse or humility over his double brain–cramp, Edwards attempted to fire up the crowd behind the Argo bench. Predictably, he was met with a chorus of “sit down, idiot!”. One of the great debacles in recent Argos history proved, again, that Dinwiddie is in many miles over his head as a professional football coach.
“We’ve got to find a way to police ourselves,” Dinwiddie told reporters after the shameful loss, but should have been looking in the mirror. “When things don’t go our way, we act like children and have temper tantrums and then we let our teammates down. The only way I know how to fix it, sometimes, is that someone’s got to go.”
If I were the coach, I wouldn’t repeat that too loudly.
Further embarrassing the club was the continuation of a bush–league maneuver (as I photographed, above). Two sideline employees held up large, white cardboards, shielding the defensive coaching signals from the visitors’ spotting booth (it’s been a season–long practice). That the Toronto defense couldn’t stop a snail cast ridicule on the cheap ploy, which should not be permitted. “Hold them higher… higher!” the crowd taunted.
Moments after the triple–unsportsmanlike conduct penalties came the coup de grace.
A short, squat person jumped onto the field from the east stands and ran toward the Argos’ offensive huddle near the south end zone. “You won’t learn anything in there,” came more taunts from the crowd. Having loitered with the Toronto players for 10 or 15 seconds, the man sprinted back to his seat while a pair of hapless security guards finally emerged, walking casually across the field. As they entered the stands, the interloper was constrained by a Good Samaritan. But, just briefly. The man broke away and disappeared down a stairwell amid mocking cheers.
In my view, it was inevitable that the perfect–weather afternoon would devolve into a farce. This is a club with absentee ownership (Larry Tanenbaum) that branded the product “value–less” prior to the season. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment pays the bills… but does nothing else. Watching as Dinwiddie repeatedly marched his mediocre, journeyman quarterback onto the field was pathetic. At times, almost comical. Particularly with ignored back–up, Chad Kelly, twice donning his helmet on the sideline, trying to will the coach out of an apparent stupor.
Bethel–Thompson, as usual, threw for a boatload of garbage yards while failing to generate a single point in the second half. Just as in the Eastern playoff final last December against Hamilton. There are no more secrets about this guy. He cannot get it done and will never get it done — a sitting duck in the pocket with less mobility than any Canadian football quarterback I’ve seen. He has no touch on the ball and routinely overthrows wide–open receivers. Yet, they keep trotting him out there… series after series; game after game; season after season.
You want to scream: “Is ANYBODY paying attention?”
Sadly, the question is rhetorical.
READING BETWEEN THE LINES
As easily as we can detect, the National Hockey League has entered the dead of summer.
When I was a kid, there was nary a word about the game between the draft and the start of training camp. July and August, in particular, were hockey free months. In today’s salary cap/Internet universe, the news cycle encompasses all 52 weeks of the year. But, a noticeable hush overcomes the NHL when humidex values dominate the weather. Even the tallest thinkers in the game need a respite. It’s right around now when those entrusted with writing about the sport generate “filler” — stories that provide hockey junkies their fix, but are crowded with fluff.
Ryan Dixon, formerly with The Hockey News, is a smart, trusted scribe at Sportsnet. Last week, Ryan offered a mid–summer “power ranking” of the 32 NHL clubs. Sportsnet, remember, is owned by Rogers, which co–controls Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment with rancorous rival Bell Canada. As such, and tragically as it pertains to content, opinion is offered through the prism of “branding” and “partnership”. Even such knowledgeable writers as Dixon are unavoidably compromised by the most–egregious conflict–of–interest in Canadian media annals. Whether this affiliation impacted Ryan, I cannot say. But, a throwaway line in his assessment of the Leafs — which he chose as the No. 5 club, behind only Colorado, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida — caught my attention.
“In all likelihood, one of Matt Murray or Ilya Samsonov will be just fine,” Dixon wrote, which placed him in a rarefied class among Maple Leaf observers. The phrase “in all likelihood” is synonymous with “virtual certainty”. And, nowhere beyond the myopic fan websites (Maple Leaf Hot Stove, Pension Plan Puppets) will you find a person suggesting the Leafs are home and cooled out between the pipes. If anything, the latest attempt at goaltending solidity by general manager Kyle Dubas is the most precarious of his spotty, four–year term. Even if I also contend that Murray was a decent replacement for Jack Campbell, now with Edmonton. If assigned such an article, I would have written “in a best–case scenario”, one of Matt Murray or Ilya Samsonov will be just fine. Under no circumstance can Dixon, or anyone else, guarantee that Toronto will enter next season with improved goaltending.
Neither is Dixon, nor his flag–waving colleague, Luke Fox, remotely exclusive among Toronto hockey reporters. As mentioned, it is not possible to comment objectively about a sports team owned by the same company as yours. No limit, however, restricts nonpartisan media (newspapers, other electronic outlets), even if such analysis is largely indistinguishable. Virtually everyone covering the Leafs today is restrained by fandom or trepidation — the inability to separate emotional attachment to the club from accountability to readers… and/or the fear that observing honestly and candidly will bring unwanted wrath, either from team personnel or sports editors/directors.
This is partly the result of contraction in the newspaper industry. During my youth and throughout most of my 17 seasons covering the Leafs for The FAN–590, reporters and columnists held the club accountable. A massive void arose when such strongly opinionated writers as Al Strachan, Damien Cox and Dave Perkins retired or moved elsewhere. Even the beat writers were encouraged to offer assessment. I remember coach Mike Murphy calling aside me and Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star after the season opener in 1997–98. The Leafs had looked terrible in a 4–1 home loss to Washington and were now in Uniondale for a game against the New York Islanders. Prior to the morning skate at the Nassau Coliseum, Murphy summoned Paul and I to a corridor near the dressing room.
“You guys really like to stick in the shiv and twist it, don’t you?” he snarled, perhaps understanding how poorly his club would perform (Mike was fired after the season and replaced by Pat Quinn). Hunter, as with Cox and their predecessor, the late Frank Orr, provided Star readers an unfiltered view of the Leafs (Lance Hornby and Terry Koshan, at the Toronto Sun, come the closest to such evaluation today). The all–sports networks (TSN, Sportsnet) did not yet control 75% of the product. As such, electronic analysis of the team could be considered at face value.
None of this is to imply that the majority of those at TSN and Sportsnet cannot do their jobs very well. Anyone that watches regularly will agree. But, there’s still too much obligatory pandering of the Leafs by the media companies that control ownership. It engenders such a premature conclusion as that which Dixon accorded the Toronto goaltending. And, it cannot change until the hockey club and sports networks once again operate independently.
SPEAKING OF NEWSPAPERS…
Rummaging through a pile of newspapers collected through the years, I found full editions of the Oct. 25, 1992 Toronto Sun (above) and the Oct. 24, 1993 Toronto Star (below). These came out the morning after each of the consecutive World Series titles won by the Toronto Blue Jays. I was privileged to be at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta for The FAN–1430 (later 590) when Toronto became the first city outside the United States to win the Major League Baseball championship.
Apparently Nick Kypreos hasn’t received the memo from management yet….his comments on the team’s performance and its GM have not been overly generous. I know the team lost again in the first round, but the on-ice abilities of this team and the one coached by Mike Murphy are light years apart. This year the team had 115 points, and had on its roster one of the best hockey players in the world. I agree the team has some weak spots in the lineup, but that is inevitable in a salary cap environment. Yes, they need to win in the playoffs, and some of the contracts aren’t great. However, as I have pointed out previously there isn’t a lot that can be done until either the cap starts to increase, or some of the bigger contracts expire. As we saw with the Murray deal, other teams aren’t going to do the Leafs any favours, and will stick it to them if possible. In all likelihood, the current management team will not be around much longer, especially if the goal tending doesn’t improve and they struggle to either make the playoffs, or lose again in the first round.