O’Leary: Time is now for Claybrooks, Lions to start anew

There’s a fine line for a general manager to walk, of being in the moment and aware of what’s around them, while also thinking two, three and four steps in front of themselves.

It may have been even more challenging this season for Ed Hervey, given that not only was he in a new city, working with a new team, but in the moment of 2018 he was trying to equip his coach, Wally Buono, with the pieces necessary to give him a proper send off.

“I’m looking at what we have an opportunity to do here over the next few years,” Hervey said on Nov. 2, a day before Wally Buono would coach his final game at BC Place. Buono’s 46-year career in the CFL as a player, coach and executive was coming to an end and Hervey stood on the cusp of a new, uncertain future for the Lions, with his hands on the controllers.

“Obviously with a new coach coming in, with new opportunities for someone to take the reins of the coaching position…whoever comes in knows that there’s going to be big shoes to fill. You’re following a legend, you’re following an all-time coach and it’s going to take a coach that has … great confidence in themselves to come in and know that they’re following Wally but they’re not expected to be Wally or live up to what Wally is.


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“(They have to) understand the expectations that we want to give the Vancouver fans the experience of a great football team, to be entertaining and win football games and all around just be exciting for them.”

As you read through that criteria, it seems clear that DeVone Claybrooks checks off each one of those items on Hervey’s list.

Hervey and the Lions made the news official on Tuesday morning, naming Claybrooks the team’s 26th head coach in its 65-year history.

“I am honoured and grateful for the opportunity given to me today by Mr. David Braley, Rick LeLacheur and Ed Hervey,” Claybrooks said in the team’s press release.

“After meeting with Ed for a long period of time over the past number of days, I am beyond excited at the chance to lead a BC Lions coaching staff with the number one priority of winning a Grey Cup championship.”

Hervey and Claybrooks began to get to know one another over the last three seasons, when Claybrooks first became the Calgary Stampeders’ defensive coordinator.

Claybrooks’ resume is more than impressive, with his defences gaining a reputation for their shutdown nature. In 2018, Calgary’s defence was tops in 10 of 20 defensive categories and was in the top three of five others. Beyond the well-crafted Xs and Os is a like minded philosophy on coaching style and how to interact with players. Hervey never went the coaching route in his post-playing career, instead working on the scouting side before assuming GM duties in Edmonton, but his football career as a player, scout and executive have taught him exactly what he looks for in a coach. In getting to know Claybrooks over the last three years, he saw all of those needs met as well.

“DeVone has been on the coaching radar of many teams for the past number of years and I believe he is the very best candidate to lead our team,” Hervey said the Lions’ press release.

“After hours of meetings and discussions I know he is the perfect coach to usher in what is going to be a new era of success here in British Columbia.”

Claybrooks no doubt consulted Stamps president John Hufnagel through his interview process, which according to TSN’s Dave Naylor included a sit down with the Toronto Argonauts before they hired Corey Chamblin.

“I have great mentors in the league and I have great mentors in the building,” Claybrooks told CFL.ca the week of this year’s West Final.

“Huf understands it, he’s seen a million years of football. He’s seen everything imaginable. The best part of it is I can sit down with Huf and say, ‘What do you think I should do?’

“With any decision that I make I always go to him and ask him his personal opinion. He’s the one that started me (as a coach seven years ago) and gave me my first shot.”

A year after taking the GM job, Hervey continues to put his stamp on the BC Lions. Buono got a wonderful departure in his final season, shocking many by leading his Lions into the crossover spot at the expense of Edmonton (which no doubt put a smile on Hervey’s face). On Tuesday, Hervey found the coach that will replace that legend and the two of them can take that first step into a new and still uncertain future.

“As I see it for myself, it’s just business as usual as far as that next step. I’ve gone through the process of hiring coaches before, so it’s nothing new for me there,” Hervey said that day at BC Place, when the buzz was all about Buono.

“I know the type of coach I’d like to have and like to work with. When the process starts I’m looking forward to the interview process and selecting someone that I believe we can work together and win a lot of games and try to win championships.”