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Consistency: It is a word you hear often in professional football and sports in general. The winning organizations have it. The perennial losers can only crave it. The BC Lions are making sure it’s part of their dictionary as they continue to chase the seventh Grey Cup in franchise history. For Wally Buono, consistency starts with him and the coaching staff.
On Thursday, the CFL’s all-time wins leader announced eight members of his staff will return next season, including coordinators Khari Jones (offence), Mark Washington (defence), and Marcello Simmons (special teams)
“I am pleased to have all of these gentlemen returning to the club for 2017,” said Buono. “Thanks in large part to their hard work, we were significantly better on the field this past season and I believe continuity with our coaching staff will benefit the players next season.”
Under Jones, the Lions’ offence enjoyed a resurgence in 2016, as Jonathon Jennings became just the fifth quarterback in team history to pass for over 5,000 yards. The Lions led the CFL with 2,082 rushing yards. In Manny Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham, they had two players who finished in the top five in CFL receiving with 1,566 and 1,392 yards respectively. It’s safe to say Jones looked right at home following his one season coaching the receivers under Jeff Tedford.
“I think it helped. Every year you pick up something different,” said Jones of being back in his rightful position.
“I’ve seen the game form a quarterback’s perspective most of my life and from an offensive coordinator perspective but it was nice to see it from a different view. I think it helped my overall view of the game and coming into this year I felt even better prepared, just because of the experience.”
Led by the Team 100 duo of Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill, the defence enjoyed a bounce back of its own. The two linebackers became the first teammates in CFL history to record over 100 defensive tackles in the same season and Elimimian took home his second Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award. Washington’s unit also led the league in both fewest yards (6,079) and first downs (348) allowed and tied for the most sacks with 52.
“They bought into how we wanted to play,” said Washington. “I stress two things in coaching and in life: what you do is important; how you do it is more important. How they played, how they practiced, how they bought into things and how hard they played every week, that’s what I am most proud of with this team.
They executed well and there were times we didn’t execute well at all. But the men, generally speaking, played hard.”
Simmons guided a special teams unit that was vastly improved in 2016 and produced two league all-stars in Chris Rainey and Richie Leone. In addition, Jason Arakgi became the CFL’s all-time leader in special teams tackles while newcomer Cameron Ontko was a pleasant surprise after signing in June, leading the club with 18 special teams stops.
Dorazio made a huge impact following a one-year stop in Saskatchewan, helping Cody Husband make a solid transition to centre. The move went a long way in helping the Lions lead the league in rushing yards. Jovan Olafioye benefited from Dorazio’s return as he took home yet another all-star nod in both the West Division and CFL categories.
Ross, the only position coach retained from Jeff Tedford’s staff in 2015, guided a unit that allowed the second-fewest rushing yards this season. Alex Bazzie recorded a career-high 11 sacks and earned his first West Division all-star selection.
Tormey successfully guided Elimimian and Bighill to yet another productive season, while also grooming Bo Lokombo and some of the other youngsters on the depth chart.
Bellefeuille’s experience paid off as he played a big part in helping Arceneaux and Burnham rack up their big numbers. He also helped Shawn Gore become more productive and successfully integrated newcomer Terrell Sinkfield Jr. into the starting offence after Labour Day.
The club also announced Mike Lionello will assume the role of Assistant Running Backs coach in addition to his duties as Quality Control Coach. Lionello took over quality control duties in 2016 following a three-year stint on the coaching staff at Simon Fraser University.
Given all of the credentials from each coach in 2016, it no doubt comes back to the word consistency. Although Buono is buying into what everybody on the staff has done, he acknowledges the fact there is always room for improvement once you begin another season.
“On defence you have to get more turnovers. I thought our special teams were good, but it’s the same idea. We can create better field position. Offensively, the thing that hurt us most was turnovers. If those are three things we can improve on, obviously we’ll improve as a football club.”
The fact most of the staff remains in place is a testament to where the organization is at right now. They have championship aspirations and everyone wants to be a part of that in 2017.
Locking in the coaching staff is just one small offseason step in building your club.
“Your off-season starts the day after you lose that game, whether it’s the final, semi-final or Grey Cup,” added Buono. “I’ve met with more players this year than I ever have as far as exiting goes.”
Even after Elimimian and Jeremiah Johnson were signed to extensions earlier this month, the Lions still half upwards of 20 free agents to consider bringing back. The remaining list includes the likes of Burnham, Bazzie and Leone who have all been working out with NFL teams.
Is it a good problem to have? You bet. But a coaching staff that has bought in is a significant step toward winning the CFL off-season.