‘Exciting’ first day for Buono 2.0 at Lions mini-camp

Wally Buono had a whistle with him on the field for the first time since the days leading up to the 2011 Grey Cup, which also happens to the last playoff win for the B.C. Lions and a big reason why he has the dual role of coach/GM again.

He has, as might be expected of someone who is now the oldest head coach in pro football, seen and done it all, but Wally Buono still hadn’t done something Thursday in over four years. He hadn’t talked to the B.C. Lions as its head coach.

If there were nerves associated with addressing them for the first time in such a position he didn’t show it, according to those inside the room. If he felt something inside, he wasn’t going to let it known on the outside.

He called it an ‘exciting’ day, with more ahead as he saw things. Let the era of Wally 2.0 begin. This could be the most interesting part of the journey yet.

“This was the whole idea of why I feel this is the right thing to do. If you’re going to be involved, be 100 per-cent involved. either it’s addressing or evaluating your team,” he said.

The Lions’ two-day mini-camp was finally underway, a much-needed opportunity to engage the Lower Mainland in football discussion. And though his legacy is clearly established, what lies ahead is every bit as important to the Lions as the 13 previous seasons under Buono’s watch.

As ably outlined here recently, the franchise is clearly at a crossroads, with Buono now admitting he is talking to Ron Braley in the absence of his ailing father, David Braley, who remains in a Hamilton hospital. The Lions owner was admitted to a Vancouver hospital reportedly suffering from complications from a bacterial infection discovered last month.


Among the biggest off-season topics around the B.C. Lions is a planned uniform makeover which will be unveiled May 12, which may include a new logo. One prototype (above) that may or may not be part of the redesign recently surfaced on social media.

Dennis Skulsky, the team’s president for the last six seasons, had one step out the door before it became obvious he couldn’t leave for the foreseeable future. The team has experienced two years of mediocrity on the field and at the gate. It’s on Buono to make it all right, much as he was asked to do all those years ago when the fan base had tired of Adam Rita.

So against his primary instincts, Buono went through with a mini-camp opening session consisting of just 28 players, though that became 27 players when RB Mikel Leshoure, a highly-touted ex-Detroit Lions signing, didn’t show. Leshoure signed before the Lions acquired import backs Anthony Allen and Jeremiah Johnson in free agency and initially the club was unable to reach him for an explanation, which might be a sign that the replacement strategy for Andrew Harris is about to get a lot less complicated.

Buono has previously not been a fan of having defensive players at his OTAs but relented to give defensive coordinator Mark Washington more work at this time of the year, acutely aware teams like the Saskatchewan Roughriders had 108 players at the first gathering under Chris Jones this spring. So for the first time, you actually had one-on-one drills at a Lions practice in April, which is the closest thing a team can have involving contact at one of these things.

In one sense, all was right again. The Lions lined up with black helmets that did not contain a logo, prompting the thought that one spotted on social media recently (see above) might soon find a home when they receive a well-documented makeover that will be revealed next month.

Football was a topic again on the radio, where Buono was again asked whether he expects Jon Jennings to report to camp without a reworked contract. (He does, just as most expect Jennings will also get a new deal, but on Buono’s timetable; no news there either.) But it’ll be up to the oldest active gridiron coach on the continent to make it all relevant again by staying relevant to a group of players half his age, none of whom were around at the time of his first CFL coaching win. Exciting times indeed.

Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.