The Argos planned to go retro for their game against Winnipeg on Friday, but they’ve really added to the theme by bringing back Don Matthews for his third try as head coach.
First-year head coach Rich Stubler was fired by Toronto on Tuesday and was replaced by the CFL's all-time winningest coach.
Sportsnet.ca has learned that the contract is only for this season, after which Matthews and the organization will assess the situation for anything going forward. Sportsnet.ca has also learned Stubler will not remain with the organization for which he had worked on a full-time basis since the 2003 season.
The pieces were all in place, but collectively they didn't fit.
Even with a football operations staff that included veteran people with impressive backgrounds, the Toronto Argonauts couldn't seem to move forward following the elevation at the end of last season of head coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons to chief executive officer.
The hiring of Stubler, a competent defensive coordinator but a rookie as a head coach, simply didn't work, at least not to the organization's liking. Remember, this is a results-oriented team, beginning with owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski, two eminently successful businessmen, and continuing with Clemons, a winner in just about everything he does, no challenge too great.
So while Stubler had the team in second place in the East with a 4-6 record, the organization simply didn't like the direction in which he had been leading the team, so the change had to be made.
"It was a decision we made as a team that the progress wasn't happening fast enough," Clemons said on Tuesday at the announcement of Don Matthews' hiring as head coach. "It's never one game, one situation, it's a body of evidence in this case. It was the direction and how fast we were getting there."
Or weren't getting there.
The Argos plodded along under Stubler's leadership, and while he struggled as any first-year head coach would, whispers of his incompetence could be heard from a variety of sources, including some people who respected him as a fine football man.
Stubler will not be the first rookie head coach to fail, nor will he be the last. Very few assistant coaches become successful head coaches, but Matthews is one of them.
In 1983, his first year as a head coach following six years as a position coach with the Edmonton Eskimos, Matthews guided the B.C. Lions to the Grey Cup. He lost 18-17. But two years later he won it, the first of what would become five championships with four different organizations.
Wherever he went, Matthews immediately made an immediate impact, making the players believe that nothing was impossible; that they could win if they simply believed in him.
Matthews had been out of professional football since a sudden parting with the Montreal Alouettes in 2006 with four games left in the regular season. Health issues were cited by the team, but never fully explained. And Matthews, a public figure who guides his private life, disappeared from view.
He once said when he retired, he'd leave in a puff of smoke, and he remained true to his word. He'd resurface every once in a while, such as at the funeral this year of B.C. Lions' president Bob Ackles, who was a longtime friend, but stayed away from the spotlight.
He was living in Oregon with a woman he met in Montreal and her four-year-old son. He was content, free of the anxiety issues that forced him to leave the game. It was only at the announcement of his hiring that he revealed what happened in Montreal.
"I said (to the ownership) I can't do it anymore. I'm really having anxiety issues. It's bothering me. I'm getting sick," he revealed.
He was told to hang in there for six more weeks, but the anxiety worsened.
"At the end I couldn't put myself on the field," he said. "When I retired, I thought that would be the end of my coaching (career)."
Through a new doctor, he was prescribed with a different medication and told it would take six weeks, but the anxiety would go away.
And it did. But even Matthews does not know for certain whether his return to coaching will trigger the anxiety. This is a test for him and the Argos are taking a chance that the coach with most wins in CFL history can guide the team to the Grey Cup and win it.
Argo general manager Adam Rita, whom Matthews brought into the league in the '80s, routinely called Matthews, the man he referred to as his "mentor," following his sudden exit in 2006. He was deeply concerned about Matthews' health, and even talking about that on Tuesday caused Rita to become emotional.
But the more they talked, the more it became evident to Rita that the old Matthews, the one with the fire in his belly, had become his old self. When Rita asked Matthews if he'd be interested in coaching again, Matthews didn't hesitate. The whole thing happened in a span of a day or so.
Matthews admitted some of his best friends in life had come from his time in Toronto, both in 1990 and then again when he returned to the franchise for a three-year period beginning in 1996 and won back-to-back Grey Cups. The Argo organization has people who collectively Matthews has met at various points in his life, and it was because of this situation at this time that it made sense for Matthews and the Argos to reunite.
And with that it led to the dismissal of Stubler, an individual who has worked for Matthews in the past.
"I've known Rich for 100 years," Matthews said. "Rich Stubler is a good football coach. The reason (he struggled) is the players for whatever reason were not playing to their potential."
And that's what Matthews will try to do with his "dose of Don. It's like (John) McCain…except I do it with straight talk. My job is to get the players to play better."
He doesn't know all the talent, but he knows the infrastructure that Stubler had surrounded himself with, but which collectively couldn't mesh together.
"At the end (of the day) I don't have all the answers. I need help," he said. "Our job is to make the playoffs and win the last game…I'm going to demand (help from the assistants and football operations staff). They need to help me. They've got a stake in this. It's a group effort."
And then he said something that put it all together, that explained why he was put into this situation.
"I've been away (from coaching) 2½ years, but I've got 30 years of experience," he said. "It's not rocket science. I will catch up.
"I think I'd have been hardpressed (to return to coaching) if it wasn't for this team. When this opportunity came up, I was very quick to say yes. I'm sure it would not have happened without this group of people."
It was the right time for Matthews and the wrong time for Stubler.