TORONTO — Jim Barker knew several years ago that Scott Milanovich had the potential to be a CFL head coach.
On Thursday he made it happen.
Barker gave up his head coaching duties to the former Montreal Alouettes offensive co-ordinator and will focus solely on his responsibilities as general manager. Milanovich said he and his staff will be up for the challenge of turning around a club that finished last in the East Division this past season.
“We’re going to be demanding and we’re going to go get it,” Milanovich said. “But that’s how you win championships.”
He has done it before with the Alouettes, guiding the offensive powerhouse to Grey Cup victories in 2009 and 2010. Milanovich will have his work cut out for him with the Argonauts, who scored just 397 points en route to a disappointing 6-12 season.
“Ultimately we know that we’ve got to win games here,” Milanovich said. “If that means we have to run 50 times a game or pass 50 times a game to win it, we’re going to do that.”
Barker and Milanovich worked together with the Los Angeles Xtreme in the defunct XFL in 2001. Milanovich, usually on the sidelines as a backup quarterback, was given a taste of coaching responsibilities by Barker, who was the team’s offensive co-ordinator.
“Jim saw something in me,” Milanovich said. “He empowered me as a player, he respected my opinion and he put me to work as a coach basically.”
Milanovich got the chance to draw up some plays and was regularly asked for input.
“I knew at that point that this was what I was born to do,” Milanovich said.
Their paths crossed again in 2003 with the Calgary Stampeders.
“He brought me in as a player and after he quickly realized I wasn’t able to help him as a player anymore, he made me a quarterback coach,” Milanovich said with a laugh. “And then about a week after that, I was calling the plays.”
They sat down late that season and Barker told the Butler, Pa., native about his potential.
“He said, ‘Scott, you’re going to be an offensive co-ordinator in this league soon,”’ Milanovich said. “And he said, ‘If you’re not a head coach in one or two years you did something to screw it up because I know you can do it.”’
After some coaching stints overseas, Milanovich returned to the CFL in 2007 as a quarterbacks coach with Montreal. He thrived after his promotion to offensive co-ordinator the next year.
“Having coached him as a quarterback, I’ve seen the tremendous leadership skills he possesses,” Barker said. “His approach to people and his approach to the game blend perfectly with my philosophies.”
Milanovich’s voice cracked when he thanked the Alouettes’ front office team and the players.
“They’re the primary reason why I’m sitting right here,” he said.
Trestman issued a statement later Thursday afternoon.
“Scott has been extremely instrumental in the success of our football team the last four years,” he said. “He has impacted our offence greatly and has contributed to Anthony Calvillo’s success. I wish him all the best.”
Milanovich turned down the Argos’ head coaching position two years ago. He said the presence of team owner David Braley is one of the reasons why the job is now a good fit.
“(Als owner) Bob Wetenhall taught me that you have got to have strong ownership to be able to get done what you need to accomplish to be successful in professional sports,” Milanovich said. “And because of that, Mr. Braley’s involvement has certainly made this a much more impressive opportunity for me.”
Milanovich did not reveal specifics on plans for his coaching staff.
Barker addressed reports that Chris Jones was leaving his position as defensive co-ordinator with Calgary for the same position in Toronto. He said the Argonauts have not approached the Stampeders.
“We never asked for permission to speak to Chris Jones because Chris Jones was not available,” Barker said. “That’s the facts. We did not go after Chris Jones or pursue Chris Jones. As far as I understand, he went in to talk to coach Hufnagel and ask if he could come with his longtime friend to Toronto.
“I believe that’s how it happened. From there it was out in the media. Chris Jones was never even brought up in discussions that we had about staffing. That’s what happened.”
A CFL spokesman said this week that the league had been “made aware of the situation” and was looking into it.
Jones has connections with both men: he joined the Stamps in 2008 when he was hired away from Montreal by Barker, then the Calgary GM. He was also roommates with Milanovich many years ago.
Barker, who was named CFL coach of the year after guiding the Argos to a 9-9 record in 2010 and a berth in the East final, said he’s satisfied with his effort over the last two seasons.
“Did I make some bad decisions? Sure. But that’s part of what you do,” he said. “I have no regrets, I look at myself in the mirror and I’m very happy with the fact that I went to work every day and gave the organization everything I could as a head coach.”
Barker added he’ll miss the routine and regular interaction with the players that comes with the coaching job, but is looking forward to focusing on his GM work.
“I’ll miss a lot about coaching,” Barker said. “But again, I wasn’t hired to come here and make Jim Barker happy.
“I was hired here to turn this franchise into a year-in, year-out winner.”