The Ottawa Redblacks are the lone winless team remaining in the CFL this season but all is not lost according to defensive coordinator Mike Benevides.
The veteran CFL coach made an appearance on TSN 1200’s The Drive this week and was frank about the mood in the Ottawa locker room.
“There’s a tremendous amount of frustration, anger about it and disappointment, obviously, because the expectations were a lot higher than that,” Benevides said.
“You’re right, there are a lot of close games and closing out games with different types of things and good performances that the players weren’t rewarded with, but at the end of the day, you are what your record is and we’re 0-6.”
That certainly isn’t a pleasant situation to be in but it’s not an unprecedented one for Benevides. The Toronto native spent more than a decade coaching with the B.C. Lions, including the oft-cited 2011 Grey Cup-winning team that opened their season 0-5.
While some believe that drawing parallels to that unprecedented West Coast turnaround is a fool’s errand, Benevides thinks there are lessons to be learned.
“There is tons that you could take from that and I’ve told people the story,” he insisted. “We were the 0-5 B.C. Lions, we were going up to play the 5-0 Edmonton Eskimos that season and you look at that record, there’s no way we have a chance to get these guys and the playoffs are looking bleak.”
“All we understood from that is just to play reckless, not concern yourself with mistakes. Go play with a little bit of recklessness in terms of don’t worry about stuff, just go do what you do. Let the process take care of the end result.”
Benevides may have misremembered to details of that crucial 36-1 victory — B.C. was actually 1-6 at the time while Edmonton was 5-2 — the lesson remains the same. The Lions’ more aggressive play style sparked a 10-1 run to end the season, earned the first-round playoff bye, and eventually claimed the Grey Cup.
First-year general manager Shawn Burke has assembled a roster that some felt could challenge for a championship immediately in 2022. The results have yet to merit that preseason hype, but Ottawa has been within a score of their opponent in five of their six losses and Benevides can feel them turning the corner.
“We’re always really close. We’re getting to the last play of the game and other times doing other great things but at the end of it, frustration is high,” he said. “Everybody’s looking to do a little bit more to find the answer and the players are busting their tails. They’re doing the best they can, working extremely hard in difficult circumstances. We’re getting closer and closer to it.”
The Redblacks may not be able to replicate the Lions’ mythical run perfectly, but the point has been driven home to young players that this season is far from over.
“I was telling these guys, I’ve been around a long, long time. There’s always adversity but I think it reveals character and I think our guys are working hard all the time,” Benevides said. “I think when you look at it through the experiences that I’ve had in my own career, everything that we want is still in front of us.”
“You just have to maintain that belief and that hope. It’s been done before. Here’s a lesson I can learn from this.”