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After Buono, Benevides must make Lions his own

Coaches are often measured by wins and losses. When a new coach is hired his immediate goal is to make the team better than it was the year before.

Coaches are often measured by wins and losses. When a new coach is hired his immediate goal is to make the team better than it was the year before.

With that in mind it's easy to understand why Mike Benevides says his situation as new head coach of the B.C. Lions is "not the norm.''

Benevides is taking over a team that finished first in the CFL West last year, then sipped champagne from the Grey Cup. His predecessor Wally Buono won 254 games, more than any other coach in league history.

Talk about a tough act to follow. "There almost seems to be no upside for him,'' said Glen Suitor, a TSN football announcer and former player. "If they win the championship again, they were expected to.''

Stepping into an almost no-win situation shows Benevides' character and loyalty to the Lions. He turned down job offers from teams where winning two or three more games during the season would have made him a candidate for coach of the year.

The challenge for Benevides is to put his mark on the Lions. He won't make people forget about the previous coach, but he can prove Buono was right in grooming him for the position.

The transition from the way Buono did things to how Benevides wants them done has started.

"I think it's in progress,'' Benevides told the Courier last week as the Lions prepared to open the regular season June 29 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. "I think we are going through that.

"I still think there is work to be done.'' When Benevides talks about how he wants to shape the Lions, you get an idea that maybe past teams lacked some cohesion. Players on offence and defence wore the same uniform but might not have always been a team.

"There's going to be more accountability,'' said Benevides. "It's very much about us, not about one side of the ball or the other side of the ball. We all have to work in conjunction to win the game.

"It's very much about managing the game and having all the pieces pulling the rope in the same way.''

Benevides brings a different teaching style. Buono came from an era where a coach told players what he wanted them to do. Benevides will explain why he wants his players to do something.

"Mike comes with a very different approach,'' said Suitor. "He brings a lot of enthusiasm, energy. He's also more of an educator. He's a stickler for the details but will teach you why. He'll still be on top of them as far as discipline goes.''

The 44-year-old Benevides has worked with Buono since joining the Calgary Stampeders as a special teams co-ordinator in 2000. When Buono left Calgary for Vancouver in 2003, Benevides came with him. During that time Benevides has established his own identity as a coach and formed relationships with players. To be successful in his new role he can't become a different person.

"I'm going to be myself,'' said Benevides. "I'm not going to be Wally.''

Slotback Geroy Simon, who needs just 68 yards to become the league's all-time receiving leader, thinks that can be a good thing.

"I know the communication with the players, it was really good with Wally. I think it's going to continue and maybe be a little better,'' said Simon. "Mike really feels the veterans and the leadership group have a good finger on the pulse of the locker room. He wants to keep those lines of communication open. That might be a little bit of a change.''

The Lions want to improve on the horrible 1-5 start they had last season. They want to win more than the 11 games they did last year.

With Benevides as coach, the Lions can become a better team and still not win the Grey Cup.

That's the problem with a job where you are only measured on wins and losses.

Jim Morris is a veteran reporter who has covered sports for 30 years. Reach him at [email protected].