• Ben Grant

The Most Important Man in the Room


When the Toronto Argonauts officially announced the hiring of Jim Barker as Senior Advisor last week, the promotion of Vince Magri to Assistant General Manager felt like a footnote. This isn’t the fault of the Argos. In fact, Mike Hogan’s “Jim Barker” story on argonauts.ca, spent almost as much time on Magri and newly promoted Director of Football Operations and Head Scout, Alex Russell as it did on Barker. The Barker hiring is a much sexier story, so that’s what every outlet ran with, including us. Barker is a name (and a face for that matter) every CFL fan is familiar with, plus he has a long and interesting history with the club. It was a big story.


The truth, however, is the biggest piece of news in that press release was the promotion of Vince Magri. Actually, it was the retention of Vince Magri, regardless of job title. Losing him to another organization would have been catastrophic, so whatever position and salary he desired was the correct one. I don’t know how well the specific role of Assistant General Manager suits him, but I know I want him in a position to make football decisions.


Magri is special. Sure, he doesn’t reply to most of my DMs and he tells on me when I break protocol, despite the fact that he should know better as a Sopranos fan, but he’s got a unique eye for player evaluation.


The Argonauts have the most Canadian talent of any team in the CFL. Scouting, drafting, and signing free agents is a team process in Toronto, so it’s not all because of Magri, but if you were looking to credit a single individual, I’d point to him.


The CFL Draft is where he’s earned his stripes. The ability to pick out CFL potential from USPORTS film is a skill most people simply don’t have. I've been around football a long time and I consider myself a good evaluator of talent, but I miss far more than I hit in the CFL Draft. There are so many variables and there’s such a range of skill, football experience, and positional instruction in Canadian university football, plus there are so few sources assessing these players compared to their American counterparts that it feels like bingo sometimes.


No one was talking about Peter Nicastro before the draft last year. He never once cracked the CFL Scouting Bureau’s Top 20, and some outlets didn’t project him getting selected at all. I had him ranked as the second graded center on my big board, but I had a late fourth-round grade on him. I was stunned, along with the rest of the nation, when the Argonauts selected him in the first round. And then what happened? He was the runner up for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie award and he was named a CFL East All-Star.

What is it that allows Magri to see what others miss? I think his secret is rooted in his own experience as a football player. Magri was a 6’1, 295lb center/guard, a four-year starter for a good McMaster team. He was a great football player whose love for the game could be seen from the last row of the bleachers, but he wasn’t a good athlete. His technique was outstanding. It had to be. He spent more time than anyone else on preparation, self-assessment, and film study. He had to. And he played with a chip on his shoulder. Because he had a chip on his shoulder. If he’d had the height or natural athleticism of the guys he put on the ground each week, he’d have been on every CFL team’s radar, and he knew it.


So, how does this tie into him being a great scout? When I spoke to Vince last offseason, I asked him about the kind of player he targets. Here’s what he had to say:


“When you go through this process a lot, you really start to get a feel for, not just the guys athletically, and the body types, but the kind of guys with the mental make-up, and the type of guys who succeed in this league over time and have long-lasting success. And for us, it’s kind of been guys that are intrinsically motivated, guys that are self-starters and guys that love the game – guys that are passionate, they’re hungry, they live and breathe football. They can’t get enough of it, they’re students of the game. They play with an edge, guys that you can just get a feel just by watching film that they love the game and they’re going to give you everything they’ve got.”


Does that sound familiar? Of course Magri has a gift for sussing out guys like this, he IS a guy like this! And when you can find guys like this who also have the physical traits required to play in the CFL, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got a winner.


This doesn’t mean that Magri never misses, of course he does. But his misses are usually chalk. They’re guys who would have been drafted by someone else a few picks later. Magri is different because a lot of his hits are guys no one else had that high. They’re guys like Josh Hagerty in the sixth round, Nakas Onyeka in the fifth round, Declan Cross and Llevi Noel in the fourth round, Jamal Campbell and Kurleigh Gittens Jr. in the third round, Robbie Smith and Sam Acheampong in the second round, and Peter Nicastro with the seventh overall pick.


The 2022 CFL Regional Combines wrap up this Friday, and the National Combine runs the following weekend, as teams hit the quarter pole of their preparation for the 2022 CFL Draft on May 3rd.


I’m glad Jim Barker is back with the Argos, I really am. He’s got a wealth of knowledge and experience, and there aren’t many people who could have filled the void left by John Murphy. In terms of the rest of the front office, there’s no one in the CFL I have more respect for than Pinball Clemons, and I’ve heard great things about Alex Russell. But when it comes to the draft, there’s no one I have more confidence in than Vince Magri, Assistant General Manager of your Toronto Argonauts.