Cam Cole: Failure no longer an option for Buono's Lions

 

Man with plan: He knows fans are restless, and patience is thin, so a ‘rekindled’ Buono is gung-ho to return the roar to Lions’ makeup

 
 
 
 
Wally Buono, about to turn 66, will wear the GM and coach’s hat this season knowing he doesn’t have the luxury of a long-term plan to make the B.C. Lions a winner. ‘We have to put a competitive, entertaining product on the field this season.’
 
 

Wally Buono, about to turn 66, will wear the GM and coach’s hat this season knowing he doesn’t have the luxury of a long-term plan to make the B.C. Lions a winner. ‘We have to put a competitive, entertaining product on the field this season.’

Photograph by: Ric Ernst, PNG

More on This Story

 

One of the hazards, also one of the joys, of working in Vancouver is the potential for a controversy to erupt at any moment.

It doesn’t have to be sports, either. It could be bike lanes or real estate prices, foreign-owned empty houses or pipeline proposals, the annoyance of walking into a marijuana cloud on the way to the office, or the staggering amount of money that goes into the rapid transit coffers from the high cost of gasoline without ever seeming to make it easier to get around.

On each of these, and many more, opinions are apt to be shrill, venomous, unequivocal.

But sports … we have fun with sports.

We take nothing away from Toronto, which has had its generations of Maple Leaf awfulness, or Edmonton, still haunted by Wayne Gretzky the way Montreal will always remember Patrick Roy, or Calgary’s sour ending with the Sutters, but we’ve had Mike Keenan (who hasn’t?) and John Tortorella and the only version of Mark Messier a fan base ever loathed. We take a back seat to no one.

Even long after the fact, as with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, who once shared the Vancouver Canucks’ net (controversially, at all times), both playing in this weekend’s NHL All-Star Game, we still can find room in our bitterness to pit their successors, Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom, against one another.

Admittedly it would be more fun if both of them hadn’t been terrific this season, but one must make do.

The Canucks, though, have been so intensely ordinary, it takes no effort at all to switch them off for the moment and pick away, instead, at the B.C. Lions’ attempts to come to (reduced) terms with 2011 CFL and Grey Cup MVP Travis Lulay.

Ever since the wholly surprising emergence of rookie quarterback Jonathon Jennings in the second half of the 2015 season, the issue of where Lulay now fits into Wally Buono’s master plan — or the Lions into Lulay’s — has been a topic of some interest among football fans.

Mostly because … well, what if Jennings turns out not to be the second coming, and Lulay doesn’t agree to return for less money and tests free agency? Then what?

“Putting a value on that is not easy for (Lulay) and it’s not easy for us,” Buono said Friday. “At this point, I think we’re making progress. Right now, today, I’m just focusing on Plan A.”

Or what if Lulay — charismatic, articulate, front and centre in all manner of community good works — does return, healthy, and quickly proves to be the forgotten option that has returned to peak form? Then what? Controversy!

“As long as we’re winning, I can handle it,” Buono said. “I’m not sure I care who helps us to win. I hope they both do.”

Then there’s Buono himself.

The winningest head coach in the history of the Canadian Football League is back in the saddle, four years after he kicked himself upstairs, because after hiring and firing two head coaches who didn’t work out, either he decided he was the best man for the job, or owner David Braley said: “You made this mess, fix it.”

He insists it’s the former.

“Let’s just say I’m rekindled. I’m eager to do what I think I was made to do.”

And though it’s not without trepidation that he becomes the one and only place the buck stops, he said, “If I’m going to be successful, that’s probably the only way I can do it. And that’s not a reflection on anybody but me.”

He has totally low-keyed the assembly of a coaching staff, hasn’t ventured into any of the splashy bidding for the Weston Dresslers or John Chicks of early-onset free agency, and isn’t tipping his hand on what he’s looking for once actual free agency opens Feb. 9, other than to say “we have a plan.”

Buono is entering his 14th season in Vancouver, which is fairly remarkable in a town that’s gone from hockey GMs Brian Burke to Dave Nonis to Mike Gillis to Jim Benning in that span, from Marc Crawford to Alain Vigneault to John Tortorella to Willie Desjardins behind the bench.

None of them has escaped controversy, and five of them haven’t escaped the axe, either.

The last couple of seasons have been substandard for the Lions. Buono is tight with the owner, but he’s also about to turn 66.

The fans are restless, and in one of those “show me” moods that could make a mediocre year hazardous to the bottom line.

“We have to put a competitive, entertaining product on the field. To me, I don’t have longevity to accomplish this,” he said. The smile was audible on the phone line.

“I’m not a college coach on a five-year plan.”

The faithful (to a point) will be glad to hear it.

ccole@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
Wally Buono, about to turn 66, will wear the GM and coach’s hat this season knowing he doesn’t have the luxury of a long-term plan to make the B.C. Lions a winner. ‘We have to put a competitive, entertaining product on the field this season.’
 

Wally Buono, about to turn 66, will wear the GM and coach’s hat this season knowing he doesn’t have the luxury of a long-term plan to make the B.C. Lions a winner. ‘We have to put a competitive, entertaining product on the field this season.’

Photograph by: Ric Ernst, PNG

 
Wally Buono, about to turn 66, will wear the GM and coach’s hat this season knowing he doesn’t have the luxury of a long-term plan to make the B.C. Lions a winner. ‘We have to put a competitive, entertaining product on the field this season.’
Wally Buono
B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono during the team's year-end press conference at the team's facility in Surrey on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2015.
Wally Buono
B.C. Lions GM Wally Buono speaks about rule changes for the upcoming CFL season at the team's facility in Surrey on Tuesday March 31, 2015.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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