Above the 49: BC, Benevides aim for strong start
By Daniel Fung, Sports Network Columnist
Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - With a roster that features the majority of their core players from their 2011 championship squad returning, there are plenty of reasons to believe the BC Lions will be in the hunt for yet another Grey Cup title by the time November rolls around.
Even with a new rookie head coach patrolling the sidelines in Mike Benevides,
The more immediate challenge for the Lions and Benevides, who assumed control of the coaching reigns from the winningest coach in Canadian Football League history in Wally Buono (he retired from coaching shortly after guiding the Lions to their sixth championship in club history) will be to avoid stumbling out of the gate, as has been the team's trademark over the past few years.
The Lions, who made history last season by becoming the first team to win the Grey Cup after losing their first five games of the season, have posted a combined record of 13-23 in the first nine games of the season over the past four years. Their combined record on the back nine over the last four seasons is 25-11.
The Lions have been easy targets of criticism for their poor starts in recent years, but they've been shielded to a certain extent because of the imposing resume of their previous bench boss in Buono, a five-time Grey Cup champion coach who finished with a career coaching record of 254-139-3.
The Lions' upper management, which includes Buono, who is now the team's vice president of football operations in addition to being their general manager, will be patient with Benevides during his learning curve, but he might not be afforded the same treatment from the fans or the media given the high expectations for the club heading into the season, which starts June 29 against Winnipeg, which the Lions beat in last year's Grey Cup.
The Lions, as often is the case for a defending champion, enter the season as a favorite to represent the CFL's West Division in the 100th Grey Cup championship, which will be held at Toronto's Rogers Centre. The Lions have never won the Grey Cup in back-to-back years and have appeared in the title game in consecutive years just once, way back in 1963 and 1964.
Getting off to a strong start to the 2012 campaign would certainly help the rookie coach's cause and alleviate the pressures that tend to come whenever a team's previous coach remains within the organization, as Buono has done this season.
Should the Lions stumble early, there will naturally be calls for Benevides' predecessor to step back into the limelight as inconceivable as that scenario actually is. The good news for Benevides and his club is that they are set up in a position to have success right out of the gate.
They play three of their first four regular-season games at the newly renovated BC Place Stadium, where they were 6-0 last season, including winning the West Division final and the Grey Cup. Meanwhile, their first three road games are in Saskatchewan, Calgary and Toronto against teams that finished a combined 12-15 on their respective home turfs in 2011.
But potential and execution are two entirely separate things as the Lions have learned from the Buono era, where they were consistently regarded as Grey Cup favorites but only managed to win the grand prize twice over nine years.
They'll begin the Benevides era in the familiar spot as Grey Cup favorites and having early success would certainly go a long way toward helping them live up to that billing.
Benevides is looking to become just the 11th rookie head coach to win a Grey Cup championship. The last rookie head coach to lead his team to a Grey Cup title was John Hufnagel with the Calgary Stampeders in 2008.
06/06 09:55:19 ET