The first rule of thumb in the football media major news conference handbook is to take attendance, and there was definitely a new face on board worth noticing when the B.C. Lions named Ed Hervey general manager while retaining Wally Buono as coach Thursday.
Once Hervey and Buono took several minutes explaining exactly how things are going to work in an arrangement that on the surface seemed a tad different, the concept started to make sense.
Not sharing the stage at the podium in the dressing room but looking quite bummed, however, was the guy who many thought was being groomed for the job that was given to Hervey. Geroy Simon has admitted on numerous occasions he wanted to follow the path of his former CFL receiving colleague, making no bones about the fact he wanted to be named Buono’s successor.
Now, he’ll have to wait to find out his fate, as will personnel director Neil McEvoy, who also was an understudy to Buono and how is behind Hervey, who cut his managerial teeth in player procurement with the Edmonton Eskimos.
Also not sharing the floor, as has been the case now for several years, was the owner. It was David Braley who Buono repeatedly called out, as the Lions season ended, to give a disillusioned fan base his vision of the way forward. Braley was nowhere to be seen.
Braley sent out a letter to season ticket holders this month suggesting there will be changes, but remains in the background, in charge of a franchise that may have Hervey in charge for only one season but perhaps longer. Asked why neither Braley nor vice-chairman Dennis Skulsky were present for the unveiling Thursday, Buono said he was told the Hervey announcement was not an appropriate venue for discussing the future.
Also on hand were a handful of coaches predictably eager to discover whether they would have a job with the Lions in a month or two, including defensive assistants Mark Washington, Robin Ross and Chris Tormey.
After it was over, Buono confirmed he has given permission for the Montreal Alouettes to speak with Washington, Marcel Bellefeuille and Khari Jones, and said allowing them to talk represented a ‘two-way street’, a clear sign last year’s staff will not remain intact.
Also not present was a retired Lions receiver who could possibly find himself with a place in the organization after he was the subject of lengthy interview with Braley, who spent several days in Surrey this month.
Marco Iannuzzi made no secret of his desire to find a place for his financial acumen in a football setting, and for nearly three hours sat with the owner and Skulsky outlining his vision for a team that needs to hit the refresh button.
But the first sight of Hervey in Lions colors, given that his pending hire had not been a topic of discussion whatsoever throughout Grey Cup week, took some time to digest, much as was the case when Mike Benevides first showed up as defensive coordinator of the Eskimos as one who once bled orange.
Hervey can’t help but be different in his approach than the man in charge of the Lions the last 15 years on a variety of fronts. Up until he had no alternative last season just to fill out a roster, Buono avoided free agency.
Hervey has approached free agency differently, almost right from his 2013 debut as Edmonton general manager, in which he produced a Grey Cup winner in three seasons. Some already suggested that hiring Hervey means the Lions could be in line to sign Edmonton quarterback James Franklin, who could become the free agent flavour of the month should he reach the open market in February.
Hervey will win some Lions fans over instantly with his view that a top priority in his new job will be to strengthen the line of scrimmage.
“My philosophy is to build teams inside out; start with offensive and defensive lines,” he said. “You won’t have any success if you can’t protect the quarterback. You start with the offensive line first then you got to the opposing team’s quarterback There’s gonna be some movement but were gonna be aggressive to make sure we have to strongest offensive and defensive lines in this league.”
The bigger question which will remain unanswered for awhile is how the Lions will operate with Buono no longer in charge of football operations, the area he said for years required singular governance.
When Benevides was in charge for three seasons, and during the one year when Jeff Tedford was in charge, players were unsure whether the guy calling the shots had a whistle or watched practice from a distance.
That won’t be a problem with Hervey, a self-admitted introvert, who’ll likely will find it quite comfortable in the shadows. Buono, on the other hand, will figure out the composition of his coaching staff, undergo January back surgery, then head for his Phoenix dacha to watch the transition unfold with his visiting grandkids from a distance.
It’s not an ideal transition. But if you think of Buono as the late Bob Ackles, who was Buono’s sounding board when he arrived in 2003 to run the Lions, it’s a pretty good start.