SURREY, B.C. — A failure to deliver on high expectations led to the B.C. Lions’ decision to dismiss head coach DeVone Claybrooks on Wednesday, a few days after the team completed a disappointing 5-13 season with a 21-16 loss to Calgary.
“The best classification I can make is that we failed,” Lions president Rick LeLacheur told assembled media at the team’s practice facility on Wednesday.
“We failed as a team,” he said. ”We failed on the field, we failed off the field and it’s our job to make sure we fix it. In evaluations of the entire organization, we felt it in the best interest of the B.C. Lions football club that we would move on with a new head coach. Unfortunately, these things happen. They’re never nice but it is part of the game.”
Claybrooks was hired last December to replace Wally Buono, who retired at the end of the 2018 season after 46 years in the CFL. Claybrooks joined the Lions after seven years with the Stampeders, including three as defensive co-ordinator, and went out on top as Calgary won the Grey Cup last fall.
Despite a long list of high-profile off-season signings that included quarterback Mike Reilly, wide receiver Duron Carter and offensive lineman Sukhn Chungh, the Lions stumbled out of the gate under Claybrooks’ leadership, winning just one of their first 11 games.
At the end of August, offensive line coach Bryan Chiu, one of six first-year assistants working under Claybrooks, was replaced by Kelly Bates. The team went on a four-game winning streak, but couldn’t sustain those results.
The Lions’ season effectively ended in Week 19, when they were eliminated from the playoffs after a loss to the Edmonton Eskimos in which Reilly suffered a season-ending wrist injury.
General manager Ed Hervey, in his second year with the Lions, said he and the rest of the organization also bear responsibility for the disappointing on-field results.
“I’m just as guilty of the tough season as we all are,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anyone in this organization or on this team that’s going to hold (himself) more accountable to the results than myself.
“I feel like, moving forward, we have a foundation to build on, and I look at it and see that we’re not as far off as our record indicates. There’s other areas where we can grow and be better.
“All the people in football operations — the coaches, the general managers, we’re all on hot seats. Everyone’s seat is hot. The only guy in a cool seat is holding the Grey Cup, but when he sits back down, it’s still warm.”
LeLacheur said the team’s coaching search will begin immediately, but Hervey added that it’s unlikely that a final decision will be made until after the playoffs conclude.
“The reality is that there are coaches that are in the post-season and you know how this thing goes — you can’t speak to anyone until they’re done. All available candidates that might be on teams that are in the playoffs, we have to wait for that process. It’ll take as long as it takes to interview every candidate.”
Hervey’s looking for someone who’s well-versed in the CFL game, but says the successful candidate won’t necessarily need head-coaching experience.
“Success, as I see it, it requires structure,” he said. “It requires discipline, it requires accountability and it requires professionalism. That person comes in here and will have those things before they set foot in the door. I’ll take my chances on that, whether that man has experience or not.
“I believe those pillars will get us a lot further than experience itself. Someone that’s going to hold players in the environment accountable.”
Hervey said the new coach will have input on whether to retain any of Claybrooks’ assistants, most of whom are on expiring one-year contracts.
“I’m going to give the potential head coach the opportunity to interview the coaches they want,” he said. “We have guys on this coaching staff that are very solid in what they do.
“People may question collectively whether we’re good enough or not, but the process has to be fair for the next head coach to interview and discuss the assistants that he may want to choose from. I’ll have a major hand in that process.”
Claybrooks’ dismissal is the second CFL coaching change in less than a week. The Ottawa Redblacks parted ways with Rick Campbell on Monday.