Don Landry, CFL.ca Staff
It has become a pretty familiar sight for CFL fans in 2019, that of an energetic Jim Barker on the Hamilton Ticats’ sideline, smiling, almost always, smiling.
Sure looks like the guy who’s been there, done that and built a rather large collection of T-shirts commemorating his football travels, is having a blast, as he returns to an existence that has him fondly reconnecting with the passions that first got him involved in the sport so many years ago.
“I am,” said Barker, a giant grin taking over his face as he sat down for a talk at the Hamilton Ticats’ Media Day on Thursday. “I’m lucky I’m getting a chance to do what I love to do, every single day, with people that I love being around.”
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Barker has returned to his roots as an offensive assistant with the Hamilton Ti-Cats in 2019, teaching technique in practice, and helping young players adjust on the fly, during games.
And bringing his thick book of coaching experiences to a team that will try to end a two-decades-old drought when it takes on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 107th Grey Cup, presented by Shaw.
If you think that’d be some kind of a downer for a man who’s been in charge of the administrations of two different CFL teams during his career, as a general manager, you’d be way wrong.
“I’m back at my roots,” beamed Barker, his enthusiasm shining through.
The reason I got into football was to coach. The day day-to day-dealings with players. Watching a young 22-year-old look in your eyes and be excited about, you know, this is how you do this.”
“That’s why I got into the business years and years ago, and I’m back to doing that.”
Brought in by the Ticats at the beginning of the year as an operations consultant, and after aiding in the team’s construction of a draft strategy, Barker might well have been confined to the executive offices when the season began.
But when June Jones left the Ticats last May, and Tommy Condell was given the offensive coordinator’s job that Jones was vacating, Barker was called upon to summon his old coaching persona, leading to a return to the sidelines.
He was happy to do it, and that happiness has been on display for all to observe whenever Barker has appeared over the shoulders of players seated at the bench, studying an iPad, or when greeting a playmaker coming off the field, ready to do an instant debrief.
“I’m smiling on the sideline because I am excited to be able to be there and be a part of this whole deal,” he said.
Part of the “whole deal,” would be working with Condell, whom Barker calls “brilliant.”
“I’ve been around a lot of offensive guys in my forty-some years,” he said. “I’ve never been around anybody that’s as good as him.”
For his part, Condell is thankful to have a man with Barker’s experience on his side, laughing when he says “he came down with Moses, before the forward pass came along.”
“So, he has a wealth of knowledge, and also can look at a situation very differently,” explained Condell. “And to be able to to unlock that, especially for us as an offence, is very important.”
There’s something else, confided Condell, again with a sense of humour.
“Jim is very, very, I guess, ‘candid’ is the word,” he said, chuckling.
Jim Barker has been known, in part, for that side of his nature, undoubtedly. You wouldn’t call it mean-spirited at all. Just flat out honest. Condell finds that to be quite valuable when he is letting ideas pour out onto his coordinator’s canvas.
“He’s perfect,” Condell said of Barker, “because he’s just going to exactly tell you how he feels. So there’s no miscommunication.”
“His role is to challenge. Not only to challenge myself but challenge the other coaches, too, in the right way.”
Barker has returned to a job that would be similar to the one he had with Montreal Alouettes back in 1996, and those that he subsequently had in Toronto and then Montreal once again. Similar to the one he held with the XFL’s L.A. Extreme, too.
“Those two years when I was coaching offence were my funnest years in this business that I’ve had,” said Barker, recalling his time with Don Matthews and the Alouettes as well as the Extreme, back in 2001 and 2002.
In a career that has wound its way from San Francisco State, where he served as an assistant coach in 1978, through the Canadian Football League, the XFL and back to the CFL again, Barker has done pretty well everything a coach and manager can do; he’s coached offensive lines, quarterbacks (including a rising Anthony Calvillo), been an offensive coordinator, a head coach, and a general manager.
If it seems like a natural progression to go from assistant to one day running an entire football operation as a team’s general manager, one might assume that returning to coaching up players and chipping in with two cents here and there on scheming might be a step down that would dampen one’s enthusiasm.
But Barker’s feelings on the matter put that notion to bed, at least for him. Not that he doesn’t have his eyes on one day being a general manager again – he does.
However, he’s not consumed by the matter.
“To get back to what got you in this business originally, is really exciting,” he said. “And it’s been really fun. And if I end up doing this for however long they have me, and I never get another opportunity to be a general manager, I’m good with that. I’m fine. I’m lucky.”
That’s why I smile on the sidelines,” he continued. “That’s why (I’m) so excited about things. Because I get to do this every day.”
And, yes, he was smiling when he said that.