No Puff Of Smoke This Time
It was nice of Don Matthews to say goodbye this time.
In fact, everything was nice about Matthews in his third stint as Argonaut head coach and what was almost his last appearance on a CFL sideline.
He was friendlier, more accommodating, less disdainful - very different from what we'd come to know from The Don. He'd smile, tell jokes, sit and talk after games as long as anyone would care to sit and ask questions.
It was all very pleasant, a very different Matthews.
So was the record. Leaving the CFL with an 0-8 record in his final job, and with Wally Buono now certain to surpass Matthews as the league's winningest coach in the near future, made one long for the old version of Matthews, the hardnosed cuss who won football games.
During his final years with the Alouette organization, he frequently promised that when he was done he'd be gone in a "puff of smoke," and followed through on that, simply bolting town when, because of depression, he could no longer handle the responsibilities of coaching a pro football team.
We all assumed it would be the same this time, but it wasn't. He said goodbye - "colour me toasted" was the lively farewell line - and even gave an explanation, which basically was that he just didn't have what it takes anymore.
That was honest. And while it clearly shocked Adam Rita, Pinball Clemons and the Argo owners, it's the right thing for the team.
They thought Matthews would be able to turn a 4-6 team under Rich Stubler into a post-season threat, but it went the other way instead. Matthews tried to pull different levers - benching Kerry Joseph in favour of Cody Pickett, essentially dumping Michael Fletcher, pushing Kenny Wheaton out of the lineup - but none of it had much effect because the talent of the team couldn't sustain winning football any more.
All the important decisions that should have been made during training camp weren't made, and instead they occurred one-by-one as the season progressed, a lousy way to develop a football team.
In the end, Matthews certainly wasn't the problem. He just couldn't fix the problem, or problems. Today's zany exit - Rita said Matthews was coming back, then Matthews announced he was leaving - was symptomatic of an organization that's gone off the rails.
It wasn't a bad idea to bring Matthews back. It was a worthwhile gamble to turn a season around that just didn't work.
So he walks away, and good for him. He's had his time, and now, with a new partner and four-year-old child, he has time to enjoy his life in Oregon in the way he said he was doing before Rita lured him back.
After losing to the Alouettes several weeks ago, Matthews praised Montreal owner Robert Wetenhall for "thinking outside the box" and hiring NFL assistant Marc Trestman to run his football team.
It seemed he was subtly making a suggestion to Argo owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski.
A fresh, energetic face is what's needed. Surely the name Tom Clements will come up, a former CFL star who has been the quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers for the past three seasons. Somebody will mention Mike Riley, head coach at Oregon State, but that seems like a reach.
Most certainly, there will be calls for Pinball to go back behind the bench, but he doesn't seem to want that.
This team, with its market under direct NFL attack, needs to come up with an aggressive, new direction, and a new head coach will be only one part of it.
Back in 1977, a 38-year-old coach with an extensive high school and university coaching record in the U.S. joined the Edmonton Eskimos as linebackers coach, and quickly became defensive co-ordinator.
That was Matthews, identified as a brilliant young coach by the Eskies at the peak of that dynasty's power, a coach who went on to all kinds of CFL glory.
That's what the Argos must now do. Find that next bright young man.