The Toronto Argonauts are last in the East Division with the CFL's worst record but president Bob Nicholson isn't poised to make a coaching change.
Toronto headed into the 2011 campaign buoyed with optimism following last year's 9-9 record that not only returned it to the CFL playoffs but secured head coach/GM Jim Barker the league's coach-of-the-year award. But on Saturday, the Saskatchewan Roughriders rallied for a 30-20 home win and handed the Argos (2-9) a third straight loss and ninth in 10 games.
"Absolutely none," Nicholson said Monday when asked if he had any thoughts regarding a change. "I have complete confidence in the team, Jim Barker and his staff and believe we will get the ship righted."
Toronto has plenty of ground to make up. It trails third-place Hamilton (5-6) with both teams having seven regular-season games remaining, including two head-to-head.
The Argos have four home games remaining, presenting Nicholson with the stiff challenge of trying to drum up support for a struggling football team in a competitive sports market that also features baseball's Toronto Blue Jays and soccer's Toronto FC and the Toronto Maple Leafs having opened training camp.
Many CFL teams depend on attendance to generate a significant portion of their operating revenue. However, given the Argos' struggles they're averaging just 20,117 spectators to date.
"With hockey ramping up and us struggling, it's certainly harder to get noticed," Nicholson said. "It certainly will be an increased challenge to sell tickets.
"But I believe we're going to be an exciting story by the end of the season and that's going to help us sell tickets as the season goes on. The next couple of games we have to go out and prove ourselves and get fans excited about coming to see the wrapup of this year."
That won't be easy as the Argos host league-leading Winnipeg (8-3) on Saturday before facing Hamilton on Oct. 1. Then on Oct. 10, they travel to Montreal to face the defending Grey Cup champions.
It's already been a season of change for Toronto. Barker fired defensive co-ordinator Chip Garber on Aug. 5 and replaced him with second-year secondary coach Orlondo Steinauer then released starter Cleo Lemon on Sept. 6 when veteran Steven Jyles came off the nine-game injured list.
After struggling in his Toronto debut — a 28-6 road loss to B.C. on Sept. 10 — Jyles finished 19-of-33 passing for 254 yards and a TD with 81 yards rushing against Saskatchewan. But Jyles also threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Jyles was expected to battle Lemon in training camp for the No. 1 job but never fully recovered from off-season shoulder surgery and went on the injured list. While Jyles has been practising for weeks he has had only two games to get into sync with new teammates who also have to adjust on the fly to a new offensive leader.
Inconsistency at quarterback has contributed mightily to Toronto's offensive deficiencies as the Argos are ranked last in total yards (325.3 per game), passing (232.6) and scoring (20.5 points per game). They've also been their own worst enemy, committing a league-high 35 turnovers.
"I know there have been many questions the last season and a half regarding our quarterback position," Nicholson said. "I believe Steven, with his added dimension of running the ball, brings a different dynamic to this team.
"We're excited to see him continue to develop."
Despite the mounting losses, Nicholson says Argos players haven't stopped playing for Barker.
"I see these guys battling hard and coming off the field unhappy with the results," he said. "They're frustrated but they're playing hard and I think that's all you can ask."
SIMON CLOSING IN: He only had three catches for 46 yards in the B.C. Lions' 32-19 win over the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday but veteran slotback Geroy Simon remains poised to become the CFL's all-time receiving yards leader this season.
Simon, 36, has 51 catches for 846 yards this season, giving him 14,583 career receiving yards. That leaves the 13-year veteran third all-time behind retired stars Allen Pitts (14,891 yards) and Milt Stegall (15,153 yards).
Simon needs just 309 yards to surpass Pitts and 571 yards to move past Stegall. Simon would need to average 82 yards receiving over B.C.'s final seven regular-season games to supplant Stegall this year.
"The record would mean a lot to me," Simon says. "I'm on the verge of passing two of the greatest receivers who ever were in my book.
"Those two are guys I've looked up to on the field for a long time. When I came into the league they were the top guys doing great things. To have an opportunity to pass them is definitely an honour. I look forward to it."
However, records aren't what define Simon.
"Winning Grey Cups is much more important," he said. "I feel if I'm healthy, the records are going to fall but that doesn't guarantee Grey Cups and that's what I'm after.
"If we're winning Grey Cups, it means I'm having success and we're having success as an offence."
The six-foot, 198-pound Simon has been one of the CFL's most consistent performers, closing in on 70-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards receiving for a ninth straight season.
A key to Simon's success has been staying healthy, having missed just three regular-season games since 2002.
"I've been very lucky with my health," he said. "I've had a couple of small injuries but I've always rehabbed them the right way.
"After every season, my trainer and I sit down and look at what I was good at and try to enhance that. We really get after the things we want to work on and try to take out any flaws in my game and strengthen everything that needs to be strengthened."
Before becoming the Lions' coach in 2003, Wally Buono spent 13 seasons with Calgary and saw Pitts's dominance firsthand. He says Simon has many of the same qualities Pitts had when he played.
"It's like all the great players that he's going to surpass," Buono said. "Allen Pitts was the same way, great players who played hard, played all the time and had a competitive nature about them and always wanted the football.
"They know how to handle the stress and pressure of being the guy."
Buono also said great players understand as they get older the value of not only understanding the game but dedicating themselves to preparation.
"The thing about veteran guys is they realize when you're in your mid-30s it's a year-round thing," Buono said. "You take care of yourself in the off-season and have to take care of yourself during days off."
"That's something you have to work at because football is brutal that way and it does catch up to you."
TOUCHDOWN ATLANTIC II: Once again, the CFL will hold a regular-season game in the Maritimes as the Calgary Stampeders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats meet Sunday in Moncton, N.B.
Last year, the Edmonton Eskimos defeated the Toronto Argonauts 24-6 at Moncton Stadium in the first CFL regular-season contest played in Atlantic Canada. The contest drew a sellout crowd of 20,725 but as of Monday roughly 1,000 tickets remained for this year's game.
Hamilton will be the home team and is tied with Montreal and Winnipeg for the CFL's best home mark at 4-2. But Calgary is a stellar 5-0 on the road this season.
Calgary leaves for Moncton on Wednesday and practises there Thursday and Friday before staging its walkthrough Saturday in Charlottetown. After playing Sunday, the Stamps leave for home Monday.
The Ticats arrive in New Brunswick on Thursday night. They'll work out there Friday and Saturday, play Sunday then return home right after the game.