Benevides has big shoes to fill

Mike Benevides replaces Wally Buono as head coach of the B.C. Lions. (Carmine Marinelli/QMI Agency)

Mike Benevides replaces Wally Buono as head coach of the B.C. Lions. (Carmine Marinelli/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:37 PM ET

Every once in a while, Mike Benevides is reminded of his football roots, the path he’s forged and the enormity of what lies ahead in his newest position as head coach of the B.C. Lions.

“I consider myself to be tremendously lucky,’’ said Benevides as the CFL continued its pre-season conference call availability on Monday, a day when the B.C. Lions were the featured team. “To be perfectly honest, it’s been one hell of a journey.

“Once again, it just shows everyone that if you work hard and push the envelope, anything can happen.”

Benevides, more than anyone associated with three-down football, embodies that unwavering spirit of refusing to give up.

Here’s a guy of Portuguese descent who grew up in Toronto’s inner city and whose career has taken him to the game’s highest level.

There isn’t a single person in coaching who isn’t pulling for Benevides, a good guy whom many feel is in a no-win position.

In taking over from Wally Buono, who exited the stage with yet another coach of the year award, Benevides inherits a team that is expected to pick up where the Lions left last year, no small feat when one considers the franchise won a Grey Cup, at home no less.

But if anyone can handle the expectations and operate in the shadows of Buono, it’s Benevides, a self-made coach who has never taken any short cuts.

Imagine the feeling if Benevides is able to lead B.C. to this year’s championship, the CFL’s historic 100th, that will be played in Toronto.

Benevides’ parents, Victor and Margarida, weren’t able to fly to Vancouver for last year’s event, but they won’t have to go far if B.C. advances in late November.

A lot of people have helped Benevides along the way, but perhaps the most impactful has been Buono.

The two have been together for 11 years and it was just a matter of time before Buono, who will concentrate as B.C.’s full-time general manager and director of football operations, passed the proverbial coaching torch to Benevides.

“In all honesty, we’ll be a better-coached team than we were last year,’’ Buono said.

When the Lions got off to such a horrendous start, many started calling for Buono’s head, claiming the game had passed him by, that his communication style with today’s player was insufficient.

Buono is happy, content to serve as a mentor and advisor to Benevides, and provide his new head coach with all the necessary pieces to succeed.

If a heart-to-heart discussion is required, Buono and Benevides will huddle behind closed doors and address whatever issue needs to be hashed out.

As long as they avoid complacency and as long as quarterback Travis Lulay stays healthy, there’s no reason to believe B.C. won’t continue to be among the CFL’s elite.

The football buzz in B.C. is very much alive and well, with business booming and the early exodus of the Vancouver Canucks putting some added attention on football.

Whether it’s Buono or Benevides, anyone who collects a pay cheque understands the bottom line world in which they operate and the potential repercussions when expectations aren’t met.

In Benevides, Buono expects his rookie head coach to be who he is, a guy who will take chances and carry on a legacy that is second to none.

“Let’s make it clear,’’ said Buono. “Mike’s going to push the envelope and be aggressive, that’s the mind-set of a lot of young people.”

Any rookie head coach who will appoint Rich Stubler as defensive coordinator shows wisdom when many would feel insecure in having such a strong-willed individual around. Stubler served as Benevides’ defensive line coach two years ago.

Benevides is living the football dream, a career that can go full circle in short time if he’s able to win the Grey Cup.

In the interim, Benevides knows exactly what’s required: Hard work.

A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH?

Given his history of finding no-name quarterbacks and turning them into household names, Wally Buono believes he’s uncovered another gem.

During a conference call on Monday, B.C.’s GM announced the club had come to terms with Thomas DeMarco, who isn’t exactly a household name.

To add to DeMarco’s lack of profile, one must take into account that he played at Old Dominion, a school that just recently brought back football following decades of inactivity.

“He reminds me of Dave Dickenson,’’ said Buono. “He (DeMarco) is smart with the football and he’s accurate. He’s not a 4.4 guy (football talk for not being fast), but he’s elusive.”

Buono and his staff signed the 5-foot-11 DeMarco following a camp in Virginia.

“It was a cold and miserable day,’’ added Buono of the playing conditions.

“But he was very impressive. He has a strong arm, is a sharp kid and you could sense there’s a leadership about him. He handled himself like a real pro.”


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