VANCOUVER — Now that Mike Benevides has revamped his B.C. Lions coaching staff, more changes loom among the player ranks.
Benevides, the Lions’ head coach, completed an off-season of unprecedented coaching changes under his watch as the CFL club announced the appointment of linebackers coach Johnny Holland on Wednesday.
Holland, an assistant with the Grey Cup-champion Saskatchewan Roughriders last season, was introduced as the Lions held a media availability with coaches.
In addition to Holland, Benevides has hired new offensive coordinator Khari Jones, brought in well-travelled former CFL head coach Joe Paopao as receivers coach and promoted Mark Washington to defensive coordinator from his former defensive secondary coaching role.
The moves come after Benevides made no changes to his staff last season and made only two new hires in his first season at the helm in 2011, replacing himself as defensive coordinator and only hiring a new defensive line coach a day after the former one agreed to return but received an unexpected offer from the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“It is (radical),” said Benevides of the latest changes.
“But that’s by design, too. In any word of football, a lot of (the reason for change) is timing. A lot of it’s situational stuff. But anywhere in the CFL or anywhere in football, any time when you have two (newly) appointed co-ordinators (at the same time), there’s a lot of change there, too.”
Benevides, entering his third season at the BC helm after serving as an assistant, said he made the moves, which emphasize teaching and aggressive football, because the Lions need to get better. The Lions lost the 2013 Western Semi-Final to Saskatchewan after being upset by the Calgary Stampeders in the 2012 Western Final.
General manager Wally Buono, the club’s former head coach who moved himself upstairs full-time in 2012, said he had no problems with so many coaching changes in one off-season.
“It’s part of the transition and part of life,” said Buono.
“The thing that you have to look at is what we did the last couple of years. Yeah, we did a lot of good things, but it wasn’t good enough for us to win a championship. Status quo isn’t always good either. New voices, new ideas, new people motivating the players, I think that’s good.”
With the coaching staff completed, Benevides and Buono are turning their attention to replacing former starters. Slotback Nick Moore signed as a free agent with Winnipeg, nickelback Korey Banks was traded to the Blue Bombers and depth offensive lineman Steve Myddleton was lured away as a free agent by Hamilton.
Buono said one of the team’s existing receivers will take Moore’s spot while the club is looking outside for Banks’ replacement, offensive line help and, possibly, a defensive lineman to replace veteran Keron Williams, a free agent who has not yet signed with a CFL club as he explores NFL options.
Buono said negotiations with Williams have ceased, at least for the time being, after the team made him an offer. The Lions are not willing to wait any more for him to decide his NFL future, but Buono did not rule out his possible return. “I spoke to (Williams) last week,” said Buono. “I was very clear that we needed to have an answer and, if (Williams) was of a mind to keep looking south, well, then, we needed to move on. There’s other players that wanted to know what we were doing in the off-season.”
The Lions have allocated a certain amount of money for Williams’ position, “if that money gets spent in other places, it gets spent in other places.”
The GM might also need to find another backup quarterback, depending on how Buck Pierce, who is entering his option year, recovers from off-season shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. Buono plans to assess Pierce’s recovery before slotting a place for him at training camp.
“That’s going to be, I think, an important decision,” said Buono.
Meanwhile, he said, veteran centre Angus Reid, who missed all of last season with a back injury suffered early in training camp, has “pretty much” made a decision on his future, but is not ready to announce it.
Buono will search for talent at seven free agent camps this spring. In the meantime, the new coaching staff has begun efforts to bond.
Jones’ appointment as offensive co-ordinator likely ranks as the biggest change. Benevides said he sought someone from outside the organization to replace Jacques Chapdelaine, now head coach of the Simon Fraser University Clansmen, who was often criticized by fans and media for a lack of creativity.
But Jones, the former CFL quarterback who began his playing career in the league with the Lions, does not intend to make radical changes to the B.C. offence.
“I’m definitely not going to come in here and change everything,” said Jones. “There’s good things that this team did last year.”
Jones, who served as quarterbacks coach with Saskatchewan last year, will also be responsible for mentoring B.C.’s signal-callers. According to Benevides, the new Lions offensive coordinator was the last CFL quarterback to call his own plays.
But Jones said starter Travis Lulay and his backups will get their cues from the coaching staff.
“It was a good experience,” said Jones of calling his own plays. “But it’s never good when you take a hit and don’t exactly know what’s going on and can’t figure out a play call or something like that.”
Paopao, a former Lions assistant, head coach and quarterback, will use his experiences behind centre to help receivers get in sync with signal-callers.
“The confidence that the quarterback has to have in his receivers, and vice versa, it’s imperative,” he said. “So having been part of that for a long time, I understand the expectations of the receivers from a quarterback’s standpoint and vice versa.”
In addition to meeting media, Benevides wanted the session to help his new coaching staff get closer.
So far, new linebackers coach Holland, who played seven seasons with Green Bay in the NFL and served as an assistant for a total of 15 seasons with the Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders, has been impressed with what he has seen from his new colleagues.
“It’s a very unique group of guys,” said Holland.
Note: Buono said Lulay is “way ahead of the game” in his recovery from off-season shoulder surgery.