Neil McEvoy: B.C. Lions’ culture clash with Jonathan Kongbo was ‘missed opportunity’

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B.C. Lions’ co-general manager Neil McEvoy spoke plainly regarding the club’s recent divorce from defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo, expressing his disappointment that the relationship didn’t work out.

“I just felt it was time after conversations with the coach that it wasn’t going to be a fit and so unfortunately we had to make the tough move and move on,” McEvoy told Donnie and Dhali. “It’s a missed opportunity for him and for us and everything else. I really wished it would have worked out. (He’s a) local guy who has played some big level football.”

Kongbo, who was raised southeast of Vancouver in Surrey, B.C., was traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Monday. TSN reported that B.C. felt Kongbo was a poor fit in the locker room and McEvoy confirmed the report on Tuesday, saying the Lions didn’t see him meshing with the rest of the club.

“He just didn’t fit into our culture, so if he doesn’t fit in and he didn’t feel he was going to be a fit here, that’s one of the reasons why I had to make the decision to move on,” said McEvoy. “Our group feels we have a good culture, I know we have a bunch of good guys. It’s professional football, it’s all alpha males, so if you don’t fit in, unfortunately the pack rules and just kicks you out.”

Kongbo took issue with the characterization of TSN’s original report, claiming he called out players for missing practice and not wanting to work out. Though he didn’t name any individuals, he questioned the professionalism of the organization, tweeting, “Culture matters, it’s called pro football for a reason.”

Keon Hatcher, one of B.C.’s star receivers, responded to the tweet and accused Kongbo of quitting the team due to a lack of playing time in their defensive rotation. Mathieu Betts and David Menard are both starting-calibre Canadian defensive ends, while Joshua Archibald and first-round 2023 CFL Draft pick Francis Bemiy make up a formidable rotation.

McEvoy indicated that the club has enough confidence in its depth along the defensive line that Kongbo was expendable.

“I have to do what’s best for the football team and unfortunately for all of us and him what was best for the football team was to move on,” he said. “It does show that we do have a good football team. We have a bunch of young guys that we were able to say, ‘Hey, no problem, let’s just move in a different direction because we have guys that can fill that spot,’ so that’s a testament to the club.”

McEvoy also indicated that Kongbo’s departure does not mean that veteran defensive end Shawn Lemon, who was released two weeks ago, will be brought back. Lemon is American, while Kongbo is Canadian, so it’s not as simple as swapping them the active roster.

The Lions open the regular season against the Calgary Stampeders on Thursday with kickoff slated for 9:00 p.m. EDT at McMahon Stadium. Both teams finished with 12-6 records last season, though B.C. finished ahead of the Stampeders in the West Division standings by virtue of their 2-1 head-to-head regular season record. The Lions then won the West Semi-Final by a score of 30-16, eliminating Calgary from the postseason.

“Going into Calgary is not going to be easy. It never is easy, never will be easy. They’re going to be up for us and we’re going to be up for them,” said McEvoy.

“This is a great Western Division rival, that’s why the Canadian Football League’s so special. We get to go into Calgary on Thursday night and see what type of football team we have. I think we have a good football team but they think the same thing, too, so it’s going to be tough either way.”