Empty seats for Argos? GM Pinball Clemons sees that as opportunity
THE BLUE MOUNTAINS, Ont. — When Michael (Pinball) Clemons looks at empty seats at the Toronto Argos’ BMO Field home, he says he sees opportunity.
Clemons, a CFL legend dating back to his Argonaut playing days, which began in 1989, is now the team’s GM, hoping to help turn around the team’s fortunes on and off the football field. Over the years, he’s also been the team’s president, head coach, CEO and vice-chair. But now he’s locked in on establishing consistency and long-term success, with a new head coach.
The Argos announced nearly a month ago that former Calgary Stampeders quarterbacks coach Ryan Dinwiddie would replace Corey Chamblin, who was fired following Toronto’s 4-14 finish to the 2019 season (three of those wins came against Ottawa).
“In talking about why there is optimism, that can be a bit like trying to sell something. I’m not trying to sell it, I’m trying to build it,” said Clemons at the CFL coach/GM meetings being held this week at a ski resort north of Toronto. “That’s why we chose a young guy (Dinwiddie) we can grow with. This is a young guy who half the league was looking at as their offensive co-ordinator. The thought was he would be the next great offensive co-ordinator. He was the quarterback coach with Dave Dickenson, the guy who when I was coaching I thought was the next great guy. Before we got Damon Allen in Toronto, I was courting Dave Dickenson. My sale to him was, ‘I don’t just want your body, I want your mind. After you’re done playing, I think you can be a great coach.’ That was the landscape I drew up for him.
“I feel at times our fan base is robbed of the level of loyalty and commitment they’ve had over the years. This is a guy who’s here for the long term. We’re going to do it right. Our expectation in Year 1 is to build, we don’t ultimately know what that looks like. What we are pretty darn sure of is the following year we will be better than the year before.”
The Argos, who won Grey Cups in both 2012 and 2017, have struggled getting fan traction in a market that has several professional sports teams, including the Raptors, Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and Toronto FC.
“Everybody wants to go back in time (the Argos once drew huge crowds),” said Clemons. “We don’t have the convenient alternative to go back in time. You move forward or you don’t. We have to understand there’s a different landscape. We’ve got a closet base that’s not coming to games. Our job is to make sure we make people feel part of something that’s bigger than themselves, re-invigorate some relationships and make others go deeper. We have to figure out how to do that in a very crowded marketplace. The wonderful thing about a crowded marketplace is it is crowded. So there are people there.
“We’ve got to redirect their attention 10 times a year — not all of them, just a small number of them. I don’t see that as an overwhelming challenge. We have to be a more consistent football team. As I look over our team for the past three decades, we’ve won the championship six times, almost nobody would know that because of the ups and downs and challenges.”
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