October 20, 2016

Morris: Benevides set for emotional return to Vancouver

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Mike Benevides was kidding. At least we think he was.

Benevides, the Edmonton Eskimos’ defensive coordinator and assistant head coach, was asked about facing the BC Lions Saturday.

“I don’t know if people remember, I was head coach there for three years,” said Benevides, who is making his first visit to BC Place Stadium as a member of the Eskimos staff.

The game between the Eskimos (8-7) and the Lions (9-6) has implications for who finishes second in the CFL West and hosts a playoff game. For Benevides, it will be an emotional return to a city where he spent 11 years as part of the Lions staff.

“Any time you play football it does get a little personal, just because this is what we do for a living and they want what we want,” said Benevides. “Other than wanting success from our players on the field, the personal aspect can’t be in it because it can cloud your judgment.

“I have a fond place in my heart for all the fans and all the people in that stadium. There are a lot of great memories there. Now, does any of that matter when we play on Saturday? No.”

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Mike Benevides is in his first season as a defensive coordinator with Edmonton (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Benevides took over as the Lions’ head coach after Wally Buono moved into the general manager’s office following BC’s 2011 Grey Cup victory.

Under Benevides, the Lions had a 33-21 record. They finished first in the West in 2012 but never won a playoff game. He was fired after the Lions finished 9-9 in 2014 season and replaced by Jeff Tedford. The Lions were 7-11 under Tedford and lost the Western Semi-Final 35-9 to Calgary.

After a year serving as a TSN analyst, Benevides was hired by the defending Grey Cup Champion Eskimos in January. Buono also returned to the sidelines, replacing Tedford as head coach.

The Eskimos beat the Lions 27-23 at Commonwealth Stadium last month. It was Benevides’ first game against his old team and the first time he stood across the sidelines from Buono. The two have a history dating back to 2000 when Buono coached the Stampeders and Benevides was a defensive assistant.

“It was strange,” said Benevides. “It was a very emotional game, an emotional week to be honest with you.

“I knew I couldn’t walk across (the field) and have chats before the game. It wasn’t going to work out. We had to make sure we stayed focused on the task at hand.”

Having gone through the experience once already, Benevides knows what to expect Saturday. That won’t make it any easier.

“We are there to play and there to win,” he said. “It’s just different after such a long time, living and dying for the orange.

“You invest so much of your life.”

“He’s very dynamic and he’s one of the young stars in our league. But this league has been filled through history with athletic quarterbacks that have found early success. Where he goes we’ll see.

Mike Benevides on Jonathon Jennings

Benevides accepts a football coach’s worth is judged by wins and losses. That didn’t make being fired by the Lions any less painful.

“Certainly it was hard, very hard, and I’m scarred for life based on what happened in BC,” he said. “But this (Edmonton) is a great new opportunity and that’s what the beauty of life is. You get another chance.

“You have to see the big picture sometimes in life. I always take a lot of pride in being able to see things for what they are.”

The year in the broadcast booth was like a holiday for Benevides. Freed from the pressure of winning each week, he recharged his batteries and spent more time with his wife and two children. He also was able to watch football with a different eye.

“The experience was about learning and expanding my horizons,” he said. “You just step back because you don’t have a vested interest.

“You take a look at different things and see how people go about it. You really take a different approach. You open your mind to different things. It was great for me. I think I’m better for it. I was able to research and look at things from a different perspective.”

Any trepidation Benevides had about returning to the sidelines with Edmonton quickly vanished.

“It’s what I was made to do,” he said. “I just love doing it.

“It’s been like riding a bike.”

The good working relationship Benevides has developed with Eskimo rookie head coach Jason Maas has also helped the transition.

“There is so much interaction and feedback,” he said. “There is a lot of correlation and a lot of core beliefs that are a fit.”

Edmonton and BC are two teams at a crossroads.

The Eskimos, who are coming off a bye week, are riding a three-game winning streak during which they have outscored their opponents 107-69. The Lions have suffered back-to-back losses to Winnipeg and allowed 103 points in their last three games.


Lions’ quarterback Jonathon Jennings has thrown for 1,097 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions over the last three games. The Eskimo defence held him to 278 yards, a pair of touchdowns and two interceptions when they last played.

“He’s very dynamic and he’s one of the young stars in our league,” said Benevides. “But this league has been filled through history with athletic quarterbacks that have found early success. Where he goes we’ll see.

“Other than the team I see every day in practice I think they (the Lions) are the most talented. They are balanced, they run the ball well.”

Benevides is a passionate person. He values loyalty and respect. He has a long history with the Lions and working with Buono.

Maybe that’s why you get the feeling Benevides might have been kidding again when he said Saturday is just another game.

“Winning is always good,” he said.

“There certainly are a lot of memories and a lot of emotions. This club (Edmonton) wanted me. I’m here and I’m part of them.”