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Friday, August 25, 2000

The Last Word By KEN FIDLIN

At times like these, three little words roll off the tongue with ease: Fire the coach.

Those words were echoing all over the SkyDome last night during and after one of the most humiliating defeats in Argonauts history. It's hardly an original thought but it's just about the only avenue available to the Argonauts and their bewildered owner, Sherwood Schwarz.

The Argos, under coach John Huard, are a mess.

It's true he didn't inherit a Grey Cup contender but the pathetic performance that unfolded last night has to be laid at someone's feet. "Any time you've lost six games, you have to be concerned," Schwarz said after watching his team humiliated 51-4 by the British Columbia Lions. "We haven't decided anything but we have to take a look at everything. (The coach's future) is something we have to sit back and talk about. All in due time." Former Argos offensive co-ordinator John Jenkins was at the SkyDome last night and watched at least part of the game from the Argos box with executive vice-president Paul Masotti, leading to speculation Jenkins is poised to take over. "We have time to turn it around," Schwarz said. "I've always been told the season starts Labour Day." If that's true, "the season" is likely to start a week from Monday in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats with someone other than Huard in charge.

Simply put, Huard has taken a mediocre team and somehow made it worse.

He is responsible for preparing the Argos from game to game. He cannot make them more talented than they are but he has to get the most out of them. "I am accountable," Huard said. "This was an embarrassment. A real embarrassment." If this 51-4 loss represents the best effort that can be gleaned from this Argos lineup, then they should all be fired. But of course, that never happens. It's the job of the guy in charge that is on the line.

The Toronto football club has not won a game since beating the still-winless Saskatchewan Roughriders in the opening game of the season, seven weeks ago. At times the Argos at least have been competitive but last night they hit rock bottom, thoroughly outclassed by a team that came to Toronto struggling to get back to .500 in the CFL West Division standings.

Last spring, Huard got off on the wrong foot when he ridiculed the Argos' 1999 defence minutes after being announced as the new coach. Months later, Huard's criticism is laughable, considering that last year's defence gave up an average of about 20 points a game, while this year's team is surrendering points at a rate of about 37 a game. Combine that inept defence with the CFL's worst offence and you have a recipe for failure.

Last night in the first half, the Argos had two first downs and were outgained 321 yards to just 43, falling behind 34-1. At the final gun, Toronto had accumulated just 87 total yards and seven first downs. Meanwhile, the Lions' Damon Allen-led offence was shredding the Toronto defence for 30 first downs and 513 total yards. While the outlook may be bleak, don't forget, this is the CFL and the Argos are still very much in contention for a playoff spot. All they have to do is beat the equally ugly Winnipeg Blue Bombers to the finish line and they're in. It is not too late to make a change that could start this team moving in the right direction.

There are still 10 games left in the season, time enough for a respected coach to get the players back on track. Schwarz has something else to consider.

There is a hard-core element of football fans in this city who have supported the team through thick and thin for many years when football has not been fashionable in Toronto. Last night, on an absolutely glorious late summer evening, only 11,350 showed up, the lowest announced crowd since the Argos moved to the SkyDome 11 years ago. By the end of the game, they were disgusted. Unless the bleeding is stopped, and stopped soon, the Argos risk turning off even those who have been most loyal.

John Huard may have a wonderful theoretical football mind. But as a coach here and now in this city and with this team, he is a disaster. It's time for Sherwood Schwarz to consider those three little words that might allow him to salvage something from this season.