CFL Pass

Argos' new coach likes what he sees of McLeod Bethel-Thompson, now the team just has to sign him

New Toronto Argonauts head coach Ryan Dinwiddie likes what he’s seen on tape from veteran quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson was just 4-9 as Toronto’s starter last season but guided the Argos (4-14) to all of their 2019 victories, three coming against the 3-15 Ottawa Redblacks. But Dinwiddie, who Toronto hired last month after Corey Chamblin was fired, said Bethel-Thompson’s record doesn’t tell the whole story.

The six-foot-four, 205-pound San Francisco native threw a league-best 26 touchdown passes last year while completing 335 of 493 passes (68 per cent) for 4,024 yards, third in the CFL. Bethel-Thompson threw for more than 400 yards in a game twice last year, including career-best 464 in a 28-22 home loss to Montreal on Aug. 25.

Bethel-Thompson, 31, ran 26 times for 160 yards (6.2-yard average) and a touchdown. After three seasons with Toronto, he’s scheduled to become a free agent next month.

“I like McLeod, he played well last year,” Dinwiddie said this week from the CFL’s winter meetings in Collingwood, Ont. “The wins and losses weren’t what you wanted but I don’t think that was his fault. I thought he did a good job … I still believe in him and we’ll look at some other guys to bring in and we’ll see.”

Toronto heads into the off-season with Canadian youngster Michael O’Connor as the only quarterback under contract for next season. Veterans Bethel-Thompson, James Franklin and Dakota Prukop are scheduled to become free agents Feb. 11.

An anemic offence contributed mightily to Toronto’s woes in 2019. The Argos were last in second-down conversions (41 per cent) and second-last in scoring (20.7 points per game), explosive plays (34) and turnover ratio (minus-15).

And while Toronto was third overall in passing (294.6 yards per game), it was also second-last in rushing (73.6 yards) and No. 7 overall in net offence (345.3 per game). Upgrading the quarterback position is one of may priorities this off-season for new Argos GM Mike (Pinball) Clemons and vice-president of player personnel John Murphy.

One quarterback option in free agency could have been Calgary youngster Nick Arbuckle, someone Dinwiddie was very familiar with after serving as the Stampeders’ quarterbacks coach last season. But Ottawa GM Marcel Desjardins acquired Arbuckle’s rights last week, giving him about a month to sign quarterback before he becomes a free agent.

“Obviously (Arbuckle) was a guy I think many teams would be interested in,” Dinwiddie said. “He earned that right through his play this year, we’ll see what happens.

“We’re going to look at all scenarios. That’s an important position where you’ve got to have a guy who’s going to pull the trigger and win football games.”

It’s a fact not lost upon Dinwiddie, who played quarterback with Winnipeg (2006-08) and Saskatchewan (2010-11) and served as a quarterback coach with Montreal (2013-14) and Calgary (2016-19). The Stampeders are rich in history at the position as president/GM John Hufnagel and head coach Dave Dickenson both played in the NFL and CFL.

“I obviously learned a lot from Huff and Dave while also having my own thoughts on how I evaluate a quarterback,” Dinwiddie said. “I’ll take what I learned from them and some things I might view a little bit differently and put it all together.”

Earlier this week, Dinwiddie’s name came up in the Cleveland Browns coaching search as an internet report stated the NFL club was talking to Dinwiddie about its head coaching vacancy. But the 39-year-old Dinwiddie quickly dismissed such talk.

“It’s not true at all,” he said. “It’s just a rumour, I don’t know how it got out there.”

That means Dinwiddie will continue assembling a staff in Toronto. While he wouldn’t divulge who he’s contacted, Dinwiddie definitely has an idea of the type of coaches he wants to surround himself with as he embarks on his first CFL head-coaching gig.

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“I’d like an experienced staff,” he said. “I want to have some youth, some experienced younger guys and then some older guys who’ve been around the block and seen things in a different light.

“I’d like guys who’re going to work together and be like a band of brothers who’ll coach the players and treat them the right way.”

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