This B.C. Lions team that starts the 2012 season may be even better than the Lions team that last year finished the regular season at 11-7 and won the Grey Cup.
I say this in reference to their personnel carried over from last year combined with their newly acquired personnel. Put those two groups together and you have a pretty impressive starting 24.
The majority of the time when a team wins a championship, players move on. One or two retire, and those who have earned free agency use it to their advantage to create a new opportunity for themselves.
It's also rare to repeat as champions because the desire for that winning feeling has been satisfied. Sometimes it's tough to regenerate that same maintained intensity for an 18-game schedule and playoff run.
With this year's Lions, it's a little different, in a good way.
Yes, they lost LB Solomon Elimimian and DE Aaron Hunt. But to great surprise, they kept DL Khalif Mitchell and OT Jovan Olafioye. Losing just two starters to free agency from a Grey Cup Championship team is pretty good.
And yes, some players retired – DL Brent Johnson, DB Davis Sanchez, and RB Jamal Robertson – but as a compliment to those players, the timing was perfect. All three wouldn't have been starters this season; all three went out on top. I can only wish.
Then in the off-season, the Lions improved their roster. Both Lin-J Shell and Byron Parker are risk-taking defensive backs that will enhance the confidence of the entire defence.
So, can the Lions repeat? Will they have enough energy and enthusiasm to pay the price to do it again? Well, first of all, it will be a different team with Mike Benevides as head coach. When the head coach changes, the team changes – trust me on that one, I know from experience.
This will be a new Lions team. Everyone knows the history of Wally Buono, and I thought it was a very classy move on his part to step aside. I am sure Buono would have liked to have the chance to coach in the 100th Grey Cup, especially considering the team he has, but he is giving that opportunity to someone else. It was a pretty unselfish move by Coach Buono in a sport that has strong egos at all positions.
So Benevides takes over as the 24th head coach in the club's history, and guess what? He's Canadian. Born in Toronto, he's currently the only Canadian head coach in the league. So look at the possible Cinderella story for Benevides: born in Toronto, played high school and college football in Toronto, and now may come back to Toronto as a Canadian head coach for the 100th Grey Cup. Movies are made of these types of stories.
The No. 1 thing I like and respect about Coach Benevides is that he's earned his opportunity. From Central Tech High School – as a nose tackle believe it or not – to York University. Then as a guest coach, to an unpaid assistant.
Next a special teams coordinator, linebackers coach, and for the last three years a defensive coordinator. And he also ran the Canadian talent evaluation for the Lions. Mike Benevides has earned it!
The opportunity to be a head coach in the CFL has nothing to do with luck or association. It is based on paying the price.
What will determine whether Benevides experiences success or failure? The same as any head coach: keeping his team healthy and having his players continue to improve.
His first challenge is easy to identify: win more games in July and August so there's not as much pressure in September and October.
Through my observation, I would say it is true that maintaining success is tougher than creating it for the first time, and that will be the Lions' ultimate challenge. But it is a new team, with a new head coach who could be a Canadian head coach leading his team in his hometown in the 100th Grey Cup. Sure would make for a good movie or better yet, a true documentary.