Cam Cole: Wally Buono’s return to Lions’ sidelines latest spin in CFL coaching roulette

 

GM willing to risk losing his 2011 Grey Cup-winning storybook ending in bid to get Leos back to winning ways

 
 
 
 
B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono. On Wednesday he announced he will be coming back as the Lions’ head coach in 2016.
 
 

B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono. On Wednesday he announced he will be coming back as the Lions’ head coach in 2016.

Photograph by: Ric Ernst, PNG

More on This Story

 

VANCOUVER — By the end of the Canadian Football League’s regular season, the man most everyone assumed was on the hottest seat was Winnipeg’s Mike O’Shea.

Less than a month later, he could be the West Division’s only head coach returning to his team.

John Hufnagel kicked himself upstairs in Calgary, and handed the Stampeders’ keys to Dave Dickenson. Grey Cup winner Chris Jones’s move from Edmonton to an enhanced job title and a heap of money in Saskatchewan seems all but fait accompli.

And now Wally Buono has announced that he’s coming down from the office above the B.C. Lions’ practice facility in Surrey to resume his coaching career after the resignation of one-and-done Jeff (We Hardly Knew Ye) Tedford.

Throw in the Stamps’ loss of their crafty defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler, to Toronto, the premature end of running back Jon Cornish’s playing career after a series of concussions, and the probability that the Eskimos will reach out to either Ottawa’s offensive co-ordinator Jason Maas or Hamilton DC Orlondo Steinauer to replace Jones, and the 2016 season has all the makings of a game of roulette.

The East Division? The very picture of stability at the GM and head-coach positions. How’s that for role reversal?

Jones getting permission to explore leaving a championship team in Edmonton for a 3-15 rebuild in Regina with an aging quarterback? Good luck to him, no matter the money, though he is one smart dude.

Cornish retiring, with so much left to give? Sad, but worth celebrating, because he gets to walk away while he still has all his faculties.

Stranger by far is what happened Wednesday in Vancouver.

The moves were announced as Tedford, the former U.S. college offensive guru who came here only last December, resigning to pursue opportunities in the NCAA, and Buono returning to his dual role.

But let’s face it: Buono didn’t even bother to pretend he was disappointed to see Tedford go, and offensive co-ordinator George Cortez’s retirement didn’t break many hearts in LeoLand, either.

It’s doubtful that either Lions owner David Braley or president Dennis Skulsky gave Buono the “You’ve hired two coaches who didn’t work out; fix it” ultimatum — Braley is too close to the end of his time here to have his relationship with a 65-year-old Hall of Famer, the winningest coach in CFL history, end badly.

No, this looks more like Buono’s decision, for better or worse. Whether Tedford jumped or was pushed, the GM and head of football operations is willing to risk losing the storybook ending to his own coaching career — the 2011 Grey Cup win — because he believes he can do it better than it was done in 2015.

He decided he is the best man for the job of bringing along what he sees as a fairly promising lineup (he may or may not be right about that) with the minimum of transition time required.

If he had brought in another new coach now, he told TSN 1040 radio, “the growing pains, the uncertainty for the players starts all over again. By not doing that, hopefully we minimize those, so we can move forward a lot quicker.

“I just think it’s going to be easier to come out of training camp running.”

Having said that, Buono will be 66 in February, and whether or not he gets an extension on his contract, which expires in early 2017, this doesn’t look like a long-term deal.

But he says he is looking forward to coaching again, and to the challenge, and is ready to accept the responsibility for whatever happens.

“I’ve always been the last line of accountability,” he said. “If Mr. Braley and Mr. (team president Dennis) Skulsky don’t believe I’m doing a good job … if one day they believe I’m a detriment to this football club, I’ve told them both, I’m good with it. You gotta do what’s best for the club. I’ve always done that, whether it’s letting a staff member go or cutting a major player.”

Following Buono was never going to be easy for a successor, even a successor once removed. Not because he was still involved in football decisions — it’s a rare GM, especially a through-and-through football man, who will give the coach 100 percent autonomy without consultation — but because his stature loomed, still looms, over the entire operation.

“Unfortunately, your shadow is always out there whether you want to cast it or not,” Buono said. He wasn’t apologizing.

“Every intention I had with both Mike (Benevides) and Jeff was to help them to be successful.”

But they weren’t. So now it’s on Buono.

“I accept the responsibility of the last four years,” he said, “and I’m going to put it on myself to get this football club back to where it belongs.”

In a perfect world, he might have stayed upstairs, behind that one-way glass. But he never quite got the hang of it.

ccole@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono. On Wednesday he announced he will be coming back as the Lions’ head coach in 2016.
 

B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono. On Wednesday he announced he will be coming back as the Lions’ head coach in 2016.

Photograph by: Ric Ernst, PNG

 
B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono. On Wednesday he announced he will be coming back as the Lions’ head coach in 2016.
Then-B.C. Lions head coach Jeff Tedford watches from the sidelines during an Oct. 3, 2015 CFL game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders at BC Place Stadium.
 
 
 
 
 
 
We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice