SURREY, B.C. – An embarrassing playoff loss put all that ailed the B.C. Lions on full display.
Those flaws ultimately cost Mike Benevides his job.
The Lions fired their head coach on Thursday, four days after a 50-17 spanking at the hands of the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL’s East Division semifinal.
While the blowout defeat was disheartening, B.C. general manager and vice-president of football operations Wally Buono said undisciplined and inconsistent play throughout the entire 2014 campaign sealed Benevides’ fate.
“It was really a combination of what occurred this year and what we were hoping to see and wanting to see in Montreal,” Buono said at a news conference. “The reoccurring of the same issues in the playoff game was such that we had to do something about it.
“The thing that was repetitive was the bad penalties, the bad judgement and not good enough football being played at this level.”
This year’s Grey Cup hosts, the Lions were full of optimism in training camp, but wobbled to a 9-9 record and had to settle for a crossover playoff berth in the East that ended in disaster.
“The things that had plagued us all year long, the things that we knew were a detriment during the regular season, they again (reared) their ugly head,” said Buono. “It’s a tight game, but yet we make critical penalties that kill us. It’s a tight game and we can’t convert on second down.
“That just brought back all the frustrations and the disappointments of the regular season.”
Benevides had worked with Buono since their days with the Calgary Stampeders and was the hand-picked successor to lead the Lions after Buono left coaching to focus on his front office duties following B.C.’s Grey Cup win in 2011.
“Any time you take a dream or take a livelihood away from an individual it’s extremely hard,” said Buono, the winningest coach in CFL history. “Mike and I have grown to be good friends because of our relationship, how it started, how he grew, how he was a big part of helping me win three championships.
“I know how much Mike cares. I know how much he sacrificed for the organization. When you relieve him of his responsibilities it’s not only tough on him, it’s tough on his family. That’s pain you’re bringing on not just an individual, but other people.”
While the Lions failed to meet expectations in 2014, they also experienced a number of challenges, especially on the injury front. Starting quarterback Travis Lulay missed all but one game because of a shoulder ailment, while star running back Andrew Harris and dependable slotback Courtney Taylor were lost for the season.
“I’ve never been big on excuses, but a year like this year — I’ve been involved (in the CFL) for 42 years — this was unique,” said Buono. “I’m not going to stand here and feel sorry for myself or feel sorry for this football team, but they went through a lot. The players, the coaches, they went through a lot, and they had to endure a lot.”
The faltering offence was a focus, but a defence that had been the backbone of the team all year faltered down the stretch, giving up a combined 70 points and more than 1,000 yards in the final two games of the regular season before the debacle in Montreal.
“Is it always fair? No. Are other people responsible? We’re all responsible,” said Buono. “I’m responsible because my job is to make sure football is winning and football is successful. The coach’s job is to make sure the product on the field wins. The players have a responsibility to win.
“I would say from myself to the coaches to the players, we weren’t good enough.”
Benevides was 33-21 with the Lions, but 0-3 in the playoffs and trending downwards after going 13-5 in 2012 and 11-8 in 2013 before the .500 record of 2014.
“The thing that is concerning is the slippery slope in the wrong direction,” said Buono. “As much as I felt, we felt, this was going to be a banner year for us, it wasn’t. As much as I was hoping that I could help Mike to put a championship team together, I wasn’t able to do that with him.”
Talk has already shifted to who will be the Lions’ next coach, and while Buono didn’t completely strike his name from the list, it sounds like he wants new ideas and philosophies to energize both the team and its fanbase.
“I need to re-establish a tradition, an expectation, and the only way to do that is to start fresh,” said Buono, who added he has some candidates in mind already. “I don’t believe that I would be fresh.
“I’m not of the new age. I have a hard time understanding the new player. I have a hard time understanding young people. As much as I love them, I have a hard time. I think we need to get somebody here that can do that.”