Lions coach Buono to decide on future after Grey Cup
He's won more games than any coach in CFL history and has the B.C. Lions poised to become just the fourth team in league history to win the Grey Cup.
But when Wally Buono walks off the B.C. Place Stadium turf Sunday, it could be his last time as a CFL head coach.
The B.C. Lions head coach/GM said Wednesday during the Grey Cup coaches news conference that win or lose Sunday, he will take time this off-season to decide whether he will return to the sidelines in 2012.
"I said at the beginning of the year the relevance of success or failure is not related to whether I coach again or not," Buono said. "Today, I'm coaching.
"After Sunday, I'll sit down and resolve it. That's the agreement Mr. Braley [Lions owner David Braley] and I have and I'm going to stick to my part of the agreement.
"When I committed to signing for three years I told David I would be committed to the contract, not necessarily to the two roles. Winning or losing is not going to have any affect at all."
Buono is reportedly is under contract with B.C. until January 2014. He will be chasing a fifth Grey Cup win as a head coach and second with the Lions when the club faces the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday.
The Lions will attempt to become the first team since '94 to win the Grey Cup at home. B.C. was the last club to achieve the feat, beating Baltimore 26-23 at B.C. Place.
Only the 1972 Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the '77 Montreal Alouettes -- a team Buono played on -- were the other CFL clubs to win a Grey Cup on home soil.
Buono has become synonymous with winning throughout his illustrious CFL career. He is the winningest head coach in league history with 254 regular-season victories and Sunday will chase his fifth Grey Cup win as a head coach.
The native of Potenza, Italy, who grew up in Montreal, also won two Grey Cups as linebacker and punter with the Alouettes (1974, '77).
Buono began his coaching career as an assistant with Montreal upon retirement in '83. He joined the Calgary Stampeders as an assistant in '87 before replacing Lary Kuharich in 1990.
He spent 13 productive seasons in Calgary, amassing a 153-79-2 record and three Grey Cup victories. But after posting a 6-12 record in 2002 — the only season a Buono-coached team hasn't made the playoffs — he left Alberta and joined the Lions.
Success has followed Buono in B.C., where he has led the Lions to five first-place finishes and now a third Grey Cup appearance, winning in 2006.
Despite his impressive resume, Buono endured a wrath of criticism and calls for his head in Vancouver after the Lions' dismal 0-5 start to the campaign. But Braley stuck by his head coach/GM, who opted stay the course with his club.
"What's the worst thing they could do, fire me?" Buono quipped. "I'm at the tail end of my career.
"Maybe if I was Paul's age (Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice) I would've felt differently because you have a family to support and sometimes your bosses don't give you the time. David Braley was very patient and time was never an issue."
Braley's patience paid huge dividends as the Lions won 11 of their final 13 regular-season contests to clinch top spot in the West Division before dispatching the Edmonton Eskimos 40-23 in the conference final.
"When you go through adversity the people around you must support you and give you the confidence to go out and find the solution," he said. "I'm not a believer in quick fixes, there are no quick fixes in life.
"I was very fortunate. I don't believe anyone else in my position would've been here in 2011 … by the grace of God I was spared that because of the wins behind my name.'
LaPolice can relate to Buono's struggles. After enduring a league-worst 4-14 record in his first season on the sidelines, LaPolice led the Bombers to an impressive 7-1 start to the 2011 campaign -- including two wins over a struggling Lions squad -- before they, too, hit a rough patch, limping into the playoffs by dropping seven of their final 10 games.
But Winnipeg advanced to its first Grey Cup since '07 with a 19-3 East Division final win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Bombers will be looking to secure their first CFL title since 1990, the league's longest current drought.
"Teams that stayed the course and were able to deal with the issues, I believe, are here," Buono said. "I believe Winnipeg and B.C. are here because they did the best job of dealing with the issues."
LaPolice said even when the Bombers were winning games, he never felt his players were taking a struggling opponent for granted.
"It was very easy for our players to look at some of these teams because we were that team the year before," he said. "One thing I always respected about coach Buono when I'd see him in press conferences or after games, you don't get too high after wins and you don't get too low after the losses and just keep working your process.
"Every team in this league had that point where they started to lose some games. But I think two teams that were mentally tough found a way to finish when a lot of people didn't think they would."
Buono said his team's plight this year shows the value of an organization showing patience and making a commitment to its coaches and players.
"I kept saying we had a lot of good football players playing bad football and that happens sometimes," Buono said. "As a coach it's not a case of, 'Yes we told them to catch the football, yes we told them to tackle, yes we told them not to throw into double coverage, but guess what? They do.
"Sometimes people think you haven't told them all this and all you have to do is tell them and when you do, they will do it. That's not true. I hate to say it but we don't have that much power."