The Toronto Argonauts announced a contract extension for head coach Scott Milanovich on Thursday, saying the team wanted to send a clear message at this crucial time that their guy is in it for the long haul.
Milanovich was hired last December, and this season led Toronto (9-9) to a second-place finish in the East Division, securing a home playoff game Sunday against the Edmonton Eskimos (7-11).
The Argos wouldnt divulge the length of the coachs first contract nor his new one, other than to say both parties are "very happy" with its duration.
"As much as I hate to be a distraction during the week of a playoff game, I think its important for our players and coaches to understand that the foundation weve built together as an organization is firmly in place," Milanovich said. "We know were not where we need to be, but were headed in the right direction, and I think this gives some guys peace of mind."
Argonauts general manager Jim Barker stressed he prioritized locking up Milanovich long-term, pointing in particular to its importance in convincing members of the current coaching staff to stay.
"We thought it was important to do it now, because this is the time of year that free agents and coaches are looking at their futures," Barker said. "The fact that this organization is committing to him for a longer period of time shows that there will be continuity. And if you look at all the best teams in the league, continuity is key."
The Argos faced questions about why the franchise is extending Milanovich now but not Barker, who said he has "some time" left on his contract and that it is not expiring after this season.
Team officials made a point to address rumours the Argos have been in discussions with Eric Tillman, who was fired this week from his post as Eskimos GM.
"There have been absolutely no discussions with Mr. Tillman at any point in time about any position with the Toronto Argonauts football team as long as Ive worked here," Argos president Chris Rudge said. "Were very pleased with the work that Mr. Barker is doing, and were working very well together, and were planning the future here together and his position here is very secure."
Barker said he has not sought assurances he will receive a contract extension, and neither team owner David Braley nor Rudge has brought it up.
He finds the suggestion Tillman is coming to take his job laughable and is a little insulted by any notion it was a league conspiracy that enabled him to make the off-season trade to acquire quarterback Ricky Ray from the Eskimos, or that it wasnt good work by Barker, but lousy work by Tillman.
Barker said he did reach out to Tillman this week, just to say he was sorry to hear about the firing.
"Ive seen everything in this league, but Ive never heard of a conspiracy to make a trade happen," Barker said. "I worked hard to get that trade done. And, as for the idea of Eric Tillman coming here, I dont worry about that.
"Im confident in my abilities and Mr. Braley and Mr. Rudge have allowed me to bring in the people I want, and I have this organization now exactly where I would hope it to be and I have no desire to go anywhere."
The Argos and Eskimos kick off Sunday at 1 p.m. (EST).
Ray will start for Toronto, while the Esks will counter with long-time veteran (and former Argos signal-caller) Kerry Joseph.