TORONTO - The Vancouver radio dudes were having a great time.
The sad-sack Toronto Maple Leafs, the morning news schlub pointed out, lost another one and were destined to miss the playoffs again.
That’s seven seasons in a row, the sports reporter added, barely able to contain his glee. They both had a good chuckle, before moving on to a Canucks update.
Pretty typical stuff. It’s no secret that wherever you go in Canada, there is a profound disdain for all things T.O., and there could be an argument made that Vancouver is Ground Zero for such sentiment.
B.C. Lions head coach Mike Benevides has certainly heard it all. And though he’s been in beautiful British Columbia for almost 10 years and now considers himself a west coast guy, he’s still very defensive about his hometown and doesn’t understand the constant knocking.
“The west has been special to my family and we do see ourselves as supplanted west coasters,” said Benevides, relaxing in his office at the Lions’ training facility in suburban Surrey, B.C. “But I still consider myself a Toronto boy and I don’t understand why everybody has such a hate on for the city. I never understood it. But you hear it all the time — Toronto bashing. I’m very proud of where I came from.”
Benevides is as Toronto as the CN Tower and Honest Ed’s. In fact, he went to high school, Central Tech, just down the street from the iconic retail landmark. And it’s there he began playing football, which, besides his family, is the great passion of his life, a passion that eventually led him to the head coaching job with the Lions.
Which isn’t to say Benevides couldn’t have been a head coach in the CFL sooner. He was offered the same gig with the Argonauts in 2008, when he was an assistant with B.C., but turned it down, waiting, instead, to see where he would go with the Lions under his friend and mentor Wally Buono. He waited out of loyalty and — well he doesn’t admit to it on the record — there were suggestions he didn’t believe the parts were in place for him to succeed with his hometown team.
“It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. But it just wasn’t the right time,” said Benevides.
The decision eventually paid off. After years working as a low-paying assistant at the Canadian university level and often for free as a guest coach in the CFL, Benevides is now the top dog with B.C., with the announcement coming down in December. And good on him because, though he is living the life in La La Land, Benevides came up the hard way. Nothing was handed to him. He worked his ass off.
He wasn’t the most talented player ever to come out of Central Tech, though he was good, and he wasn’t a former professional player or U.S. college coach. He’s just a good Toronto boy, born and raised in Little Portugal, a kid who was taught from an early age that a solid work ethic can take you anywhere in life.
“Dad was a farmer (in Portugal) and he was very much about working: ‘Don’t waste your time playing sports. Get your life in order. Find a way to make a living to support your family,’ that kind of stuff,” said Benevides. “When I was younger, my dad worked at multiple jobs. He’d come home, eat, and then go to his second job. He was a grinder and a worker, and that’s where I got my early learning from.”
Victor and Marguerida immigrated to Canada from the Azores in the 1960’s and have lived in the same house in the Dundas and Dovercourt area for 43 years. Now in their 70’s and retired, Victor worked in the building department at the Royal Bank while Marguerida took the bus every day to the Pen Factory at Islington and The Queensway. Their life was working and raising their kids. Sports wasn’t on the radar.
But when Mike entered Central Tech, he fell in love with football and eventually earned a scholarship to Bakersfield College in California before switching to York University where he studied Business Management and Marketing, While there, head football coach Tom Arnott convinced him to give coaching a whirl. It was a natural progression. Even when he was a two-way star at Tech, Benevides was a field general, calling plays on both the offence and defence.
“Right from early on, the X’s and O’s, the strategy, the terminology, how they went together, fascinated me,” he said.
He coached while holding down part-time jobs, including setting up an industrial painting business during his time at York, which he later sold to his brother. Eventually, Benevides was offered a guest coaching position with the Calgary Stampeders in 2000 before moving to the Lions in 2003 as a special teams coach, and then defensive coordinator/linebackers coach in 2008, before his big promotion to head coach.
“Now my parents can’t stay away from the TV and my mom keeps a log of every game with all the stats,” said Benevides, with a laugh. “I tell her, ‘Where was all this when I played?’”
It was there. The support was always there. He knows that. And the good Toronto boy is grateful.