Lions promote Mike Benevides to head coach
Mike Benevides was dressed smartly in a suit for his introduction as B.C. Lions head coach Tuesday.
But he will be sporting more of a Bill Belichick look on the sidelines during the 2012 CFL season.
As expected, the Lions promoted their defensive co-ordinator to the club's top coaching position. Benevides replaces Wally Buono, the winningest coach in CFL history, who stepped down following last month's Grey Cup win over Winnipeg to concentrate full-time on his duties as the club's general manager.
Benevides is affectionately dubbed "Little Wally" because his views on football are strikingly similar to those of his mentor. But the Toronto native vows to be himself in his new job, meaning he'll continue to dress casually on the sidelines.
"I'm going to go with the hoodie," said Benevides, who wore an orange and black tie during the news conference at the club's practice facility. "That's what I feel comfortable in.
"You want to be comfortable working."
And no one looks more comfortable on the sidelines than Belichick, the New England Patriots head coach who routinely wears a hooded sweatshirt during games, often with the sleeves cut short.
Benevides earned his promotion with the Lions after serving nine seasons as an assistant, the last four as defensive co-ordinator.
And Benevides' appointment was hardly a surprise. He had been deemed B.C.'s head coach in waiting since 2008 when he turned down a chance for the top job with the Toronto Argonauts.
In fact, Buono, who also has the added title of vice-president of football operations, admitted he didn't interview any other candidates to be his successor.
"Mike's been a tremendous warrior," said Buono. "He's been a tremendous soldier.
"When I think of giving someone an opportunity, I can say this: He's earned this opportunity."
Benevides said he turned down the Argos' job because he felt the Lions provided him a better coaching opportunity. However, Benevides said he was never guaranteed the Lions's head coaching position.
Buono said while he felt Benevides could one day replace him, but added he only made the final decision to promote Benevides recently.
"I had to go on blind faith in the sense that I was making a decision based on what I knew about Toronto and what I felt in my heart," said Benevides. "This opportunity was never promised to me."
Considering the Lions are coming off a championship season, Benevides faces a rather daunting task in his first stint as a head coach. But he plans to lean heavily on Buono as well as other members of the Lions' coaching staff.
Buono said Benevides' background, which includes operating his own industrial painting business, was a factor in his getting the job.
The son of Portuguese immigrants — his dad was a civil engineer while his mother worked in pen factory — Benevides grew up in inner-city Toronto and earned a scholarship as a nose tackle at Bakersfield College before turning to coaching. He served as a defensive assistant at his high school, Central Tech, as well as York University, where he also studied business.
Benevides and Buono met in 1999 at a Canadian university all-star game in Calgary, where Buono was then the Stampeders' head coach. Benevides first served as a guest coach under Buono before being hired as a defensive assistant and ultimately promoted to special-teams co-ordinator, a job Buono described as thankless.
When Buono left Calgary for B.C. in 2003, Benevides followed suit as the Lions' special teams co-ordinator and linebackers coach. He took over as defensive co-ordinator in 2008 after veteran CFL coach Dave Ritchie retired.
B.C.'s defence certainly prospered under Benevides' watch. Since 2008, no CFL team has recorded more sacks (211), or forced more turnovers (203) than the Lions.
The unit struggled early this year, allowing an average of 32 points per game as B.C. lost its first five regular-season contests. But the Lions' defence certainly finished strong, ending the season allowing a league-low 21.4 points per game and finishing second overall in sacks with 54.
Benevides spoke twice to the Saskatchewan Roughriders about their head coaching vacancy. But he admitted those talks never really heated up because by that time Benevides knew he was getting the Lions' job.
One of the first decisions Benevides must make as head coach is whether to hire a replacement as defensive co-ordinator. When Benevides accepted the top post, he did so with Buono's blessing to also continue handling the Lions' defence.
Benevides said he'll take a hard look at what defensive co-ordinators are available before deciding whether to give up that job or not.
The harsh reality in pro spot is player changes are inevitable, regardless of whether a team wins. Still, Benevides believes the Lions' roster is certainly strong enough to keep the Lions in Grey Cup contention and vowed to win several more CFL titles.
"Everything you want is right here," said Benevides.