1. Toronto Argonauts Head Coach Ryan Dinwiddie
There was a sense around the Argonauts — and throughout the CFL for that matter — that newly minted general manager Michael Clemons would dip into the team’s past as he attempted to steer the franchise in a new direction.
All kinds of names with ties to the Double Blue began to filter in, in anticipation of a coaching move that was all but inevitable following a four-win season — its second in a row.
But no one could have envisioned Clemons turning to Ryan Dinwiddie as the Argos’ next head coach once the decision was made to relieve Corey Chamblin of his duties after just one season.
And little did anyone — at least anyone with a sense of Argos history — see the day when Clemons would utter the name of Bob O’Billovich, one of the greatest coaches and individuals the league has ever seen.
The man affectionately known as Obie was Clemons’ first head coach in the CFL, the guy, some say, who was responsible for the ‘Pinball’ moniker that has accompanied him from the first day he showed up at training camp in Guelph back in 1989.
But seven years earlier, no one knew anything about O’Billovich when GM Ralph Sazio was looking for a fresh and new face to lead a team from the ashes.
All people knew of O’Billovich was his time in Ottawa as a player and later an assistant coach.
Sazio picked O’Billovich in 1982 to serve as head coach of the Argonauts and one of the longest Grey Cup droughts would soon be history.
It’s striking how Clemons used the Sazio-Obie connection in introducing Dinwiddie on Friday and how perfect the timing seemed.
Sazio, for those not aware of his background, was much older and far more experienced when he left Hamilton for Toronto in ’81. He needed a fresh voice, just as Clemons needed a fresh, new voice and resisted the urge to hire a recycled name.
For what it’s worth, not many can argue with anything that was said or wasn’t being said on Friday, including the way the 39-year-old Dinwiddie conducted himself. He knows the challenges that await, but he’s excited and wants to be bold and aggressive.
When Obie was first introduced as Argos head coach, he was in his early 40s.
The one obvious difference between Obie and Dinwiddie is in the quarterback situation they inherited, but that’s the area of expertise that led Clemons to turn to the former Calgary Stampeders QBs coach.
Toronto’s 30-year Cup drought ended in 1983 — Obie’s second season in Toronto — when they rallied to beat the B.C. Lions behind a couple of established veteran QBs in Condredge Holloway and Joe Barnes, whose short touchdown pass to running back Cedric Minter in the final minutes of the game secured the historic victory.
As of Friday, the only quarterback Dinwiddie has on his roster with any kind of CFL experience is Canadian Michael O’Connor, who just wrapped up his rookie season and threw only 25 passes.
Only once the Argos can get their new head coach a reliable quarterback — and their are a few available on the free-agent market — can a proper evaluation of Dinwiddie begin.
But he checks off all of the boxes that Clemons appears to be looking for — a smart offensive mind who knows the quarterback position, a guy who comes from a Calgary franchise accustomed to winning.
For now, long-suffering fans of the Boatmen must understand that Dinwiddie is serious when he talks about the work he’ll put in, the time and sacrifices he’s prepared to make as he begins his first foray as a head coach.
There are naysayers out there, but credit Clemons for picking a guy with no baggage.
Clemons knew the slate had to be clean and the decision, while some may disagree, appears to be the right one.The Argos simply needed an offensive-minded head coach, but not just any coach.
Clemons believes Dinwiddie is the right guy.
In fact, he even went on a limb by describing him as the “Next One”, drawing a parallel with Scott Milanovich, whom Jim Barker lured to Toronto as head coach in 2012. The Argos would win a Grey Cup under the rookie Milanovich, but that team also had Ricky Ray as its quarterback.
As early as two seasons ago, the Argos had a GM-head coach tandem of Jim Popp and Marc Trestman.
The franchise will enter the 2020 season with a rookie GM in Clemons and a rookie head coach in Dinwiddie. Say what you want, but it does represent a new beginning.
Club president Bill Manning asked to Clemons to evaluate every aspect of the franchise.
“He (Clemons) met a lot of people, he asked a lot of questions,’’ said Manning. “A few weeks ago, he came in and said how we should consider changing our head coach (which explains why this process went as long as it did seeing how the Argos last played a game on Nov. 2).
“We talked about the ramifications of it. We talked about whether it was the right direction and it all pointed to finding the right coach. Ryan came on our radar screen. Pinball spent a lot of time getting to know Ryan, along with John Murphy (Toronto’s director of player personnel).”
Dinwiddie was a QB at Boise State and played for Winnipeg and Saskatchewan from 2006-11 before becoming a quarterbacks coach for Montreal, then Calgary where he spent four years grooming Bo Levi Mitchell.
STAFF A MIX OF YOUNG AND OLD
Now that he’s got the gig as Argos head coach, Ryan Dinwiddie is already putting together his staff.
“I want an experienced staff,’’ he said during Friday’s introductory news conference held at BMO Field. “And I don’t want a group of young guys. I’ve already told friends ‘no’ in the last few weeks who heard something about this (his role as Argos head coach). That’s tough to do in this business, but I want guys who care about their players. Like Michael (Clemons) said: Teachers, organized guys who get the most out of meeting time. We want to have a variety of old and young.
“I’ve obviously talked to some guys. We haven’t finalized it quite yet, but we’ll get it done real soon.”
The Elk Groove, Calif., native will make Toronto his full-time home.
He thanked all the people who were instrumental in providing him with his first crack as a head coach, including former Argos GM Jim Popp, who gave Dinwiddie his first assistant coaching job in Montreal.
In fact, Popp interviewed Dinwiddie for the Argos’ offensive co-ordinator job last off-season.
“My wife was pregnant and it just wasn’t the right time,’’ said Dinwiddie. “I was intrigued by the position, but becoming head coach was too hard to pass up. I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Exciting, in all three phases, is what Dinwiddie wants the Argos to become and he’ll focus on hiring a defensive co-ordinator who wants to be aggressive and a special teams coach that must be physical.
He’s also looking forward to working with Clemons.
“Michael has been in my chair (as Argos head coach),” he said, “and he’ll be a huge sounding board.”
CLEMONS WANTS REBUILD, COACH THAT ARE GOING TO LAST
There’s no looking back in the football world that Michael Clemons occupies, no reason why the past needs to be revisited when it’s the future the Argos general manager is addressing.
Clemons wants sustained success and not quick fixes that have, it should be noted, allowed the franchise to win Grey Cup championships with teams that he either played on or coached, or been on the periphery of as was the case with their two most recent titles in 2012 and 2017.
Lately, however, the Argos have fallen on hard times, coming off back-to-back four-win seasons.
Clemons’ decision to appoint Ryan Dinwiddie as new head coach marks the fourth change in five years.
For Clemons, the decision to turn to Dinwiddie while relieving Corey Chamblin of his duties represents his first major decision since he replaced Jim Popp as GM two months ago.
“When we made the decision today (on Friday), we decided the best decision to make was to build,’’ said Clemons on a day when Dinwiddie was formally introduced as Toronto’s new head coach. “And to build it with that young guy who is the next guy, if you will.”
The hope is that Dinwiddie sticks around long enough to oversee an Argos team that consistently wins.
Clemons was head coach of the Argos when they won the Grey Cup in 2004.
In the following years, the Argos have had five winning seasons, the most recent coming in 2015.
Dinwiddie, meanwhile, wants to make Toronto his year-round home, a fact noty lost on his GM
“Being present, being here is a huge part of setting a culture,’’ said Clemons, who, as one might expect, was articulate and on point when he spoke Friday. “In building a culture, having discipline, having grinders was imperative.
“The next thing was teachers. I used to tell my coaches: ‘Teach, not tell.’ It’s not your job to tell them (players), it’s your job to teach them. And teaching takes time. It’s patience when you teach.”
Winning becomes a byproduct of the blueprint Clemons wants the Argos to embrace.
During his conversations with Dinwiddie, Clemons wanted to break the ice by posing a generic question to get the ball rolling.
“I said: ‘Ryan, what other sports do you like? And what do you watch? Who are your other teams?’ He said: ‘All I watch is football.’”
Dinwiddie is a football coach’s son.
“I asked (the senior Dinwiddie) how long (Ryan) has been around football,’’ added Clemons. “He said: ‘He was so small that one point he actually got zipped up in the ball bag. This guy has football in his jeans.”
MUSIC TO THEIR EARS
Alden Darby Jr., and Abdul Kanneh were two players in attendance at BMO Field on Friday, soaking up every word expressed by new head coach Ryan Dinwiddie as the Argos officially turned the page.
“We all wish coach (Corey) Chamblin well and the staff before,’’ he said of the previous regime. “But now is a new day. I loved what I heard from the new coach, Bill (Manning) and Pinball (Clemons). I just know everything will be moving forward.”