Leos have what they need, for now, with Buono extension

A look of equal parts disdain and fear briefly came over Wally Buono’s face when he got the news. A second later, so did a wry smile.

Truthfully, there are far more important things connected with being coach and general manager of the B.C. Lions these days to be concerned by what was reassured when he signed another contract extension that will keep him engaged with the CFL team for at least a year longer than he had planned.

But in one brief moment, a range of emotions were evident when told he’ll start the season as the oldest head coach in pro football in North America. At 66, Buono jumps ahead of departed New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who was 69 was he was asked to resign last year, and a year in front of that spry 65-year-old, Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks.

To be sure, age wasn’t discussed when Buono talked recently about his upcoming return to the sidelines with longtime friend Marv Levy, who was just a 72-year-old pup at the end of  his last football coaching gig.

But if being a coach and grandfather is going to be an issue it will be one only outside his locker room, said Buono, who insists he has enough left in his emotional tank to resurrect a franchise that clearly is going through another inevitable change.

“Part of being relevant is like what we started to do the other day when we discussed our travel plans this season with our players. Like anything whether you’re the oldest or youngest coach you got to make your players feel valuable,” he said.

“I’ll listen. I’m not always going to do what you ask me to do, but the principles of discipline and accountability never changed.” Joe Gibbs or Weeb Ewbank, who were both 67 when they gave up coaching in the NFL, couldn’t have said it better.

By agreeing to stay at least through the 2017 season, the Lions also achieve some much-needed stability at an important point of the franchise’s timeline.

Though not at the news conference called to announce his extension, owner David Braley has been in the Lower Mainland the last couple of days and will assume a more visible presence in the wake of the imminent role reduction of outgoing president Dennis Skulsky.

It’s also understood Braley is stirring the embers locally to determine if he still has groups interested in buying his franchise, though isn’t likely to conduct a sales transaction if a deal cannot be closed by the start of training camp. The owner, who turns 75 on May 31, has made numerous pledges about selling his CFL interests over the years prior to various birthdays, having made good on one promise when he finally turned in the keys to the Toronto Argonauts.

Braley has known for weeks that if he was going to lose a president a search for a top football ops officer wouldn’t be necessary right away, which is why only the term of Buono’s extension ranked as a mild surprise.

But having Buono locked in certainly allows the Lions to put committed leadership at the top of the team’s football asset list and certainly wouldn’t hurt a prospective sale if the buyer happens to be a local real estate developer, and there’s more than one supposedly kicking tires, or other three-down newbies.

It also means the Lions don’t need another talent evaluator to get involved in assessing the growth of quarterback Jon Jennings, who hasn’t yet approached the club about a contract extension, given he still has two years left on his current deal. When asked for his take, Buono didn’t sound like he was in a rush to secure an extension either, a prudent thought about a quarterback who has but six games as a pro starter.

What the Lions need is what they have, for the time being anyway, though this season is unquestionably a referendum on Buono and a need to look into the future. But he said if the turnaround that couldn’t be accomplished under Mike Benevides or Jeff Tedford is somehow achieved before the end of his new extension, Buono would consider stepping aside early.

If Buono can’t understand what passes these days for music in his locker room the next couple of seasons, that’s fine too.


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.