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VANCOUVER — Ahead of the 2020 campaign opening, new BC Lions head coach Rick Campbell is excited about what the team has built up to this point in the off-season.
“It’s exciting to have everyone together. It keeps getting more real as the football season isn’t that far away, which is amazing to me,” Campbell said to BCLions.com.
In just over two months, the Lions will be headed to Kamloops, BC for their minicamp as well as training camp, and then, the team kicks off their season on June 11 against the Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium.
Campbell is set to enter his first season at the helm for the Leos. Following a big off-season that saw them land one of the biggest fishes on the open market in quarterback Mike Reilly, the team faltered out of the gate, winning just one of their first seven contests.
That slump continued and the Lions found themselves sitting at 1-10 following Week 13. Despite that, they still held an outside shot and making it into the playoffs in the crossover spot, but they’d need a lot to go their way. BC won its next four games, and all of a sudden, they were in the Edmonton Eskimos’ rearview mirror. It was just too little, too late for the team, as a loss to the Esks in Week 18 clinched them a playoff spot and ended the Lions’ hopes of a playoff berth in one fell swoop.
BC was marred by issues in the trenches early on. They gave up a league-high 58 sacks on the year, with the majority of those coming in the first half of the campaign. A change was made, as offensive line coach Bryan Chiu was relieved of his duties and Kelly Bates was brought in as his replacement. Despite the O-line showing improvement down the stretch, the defence was only able to get to the quarterback 28 times — tied for the second-worst total in the league.
With the team falling short of the lofty expectations set out ahead of the 2019 season, changes were bound to come, and they were vast by general manager Ed Hervey.
First-year head coach DeVone Claybrooks was relieved of his duties, leaving the door open for Campbell to come on board following his departure from the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
The new head coach brought along his own staff, headlined by Jordan Maksymic and Don Yanowsky as the offensive and special teams coordinators, respectively.
On Monday, the entire coaching staff was officially introduced to the local media at a press conference. Campbell was excited about the individuals that will be joining him on the sidelines.
“The thing is that all these guys have CFL experience which is huge. I just like the mix of having some veteran coaches that have been around the block a long time. There are also some guys who will continue to grow so it’s a good mix that way,” Campbell said. “I had mentioned at the press conference that there are two things that are key to winning for me in the CFL. One is talent with the players and the coaches. They’ve got to be guys that are smart and know what they’re doing and know the game, which these guys do. The second part for me is to have character people.
“There’s going to be tough times that we go through and when you have really solid people to ride through those tough times, it’s really important. I really feel good about this staff. They’re talented guys but they’re also good people and that’s an important thing.”
Bates returns to the team in the same position as last season. Maksymic and Reilly will be charged with getting the offence firing on all cylinders heading into 2019. Through the final stretch of the year, Reilly was given more time in the pocket and was able to air it out as a result. Just as the Lions’ offence was hitting its stride, however, Reilly suffered a season-ending wrist injury.
“It’s going to be big because they already have a relationship and the offence, the terminology and the concepts that we’re going to run, our whole coaching staff knows them already and they’ve all worked in this offence before,” Campbell said. “That makes a huge difference when you’re going through and coming up with new ideas. You’re not talking about basics, you’re starting from a higher point. So I think that’s going to be really good and Mike (Reilly) knows the offence too.
“It means we can be more creative and adapt and do things and I’m really looking forward to seeing that dynamic work.”
With a new set of faces in house, Campbell feels as though the right group is in place in order to turn the Lions’ fortunes around. The team was looking like a contender ahead of last season, and they’ll be looking to live up to those expectations in 2020.
“One of the tricks to being successful in football is you need to adapt and when people are hard-headed and don’t change their ways, it usually doesn’t go well. The game of football, part of the reason it makes it so fun is that it’s complex. You’re dealing with so much strategy and so many different people. So when you get some people together, you have good discussions about different ways of doing things and doing things a better way and that’s what really helps.
– With files from BCLions.com