Reduced challenge ‘fishing’ endorsed by Lions coach

He may be the winningest coach in CFL history but Wally Buono was never much for embarking on a fishing expedition while on the job with the B.C. Lions. He’s only slightly more inclined to do it now.

Buono endorsed the decision by the league Wednesday to limit the number of challenges that can now be thrown by he and his colleagues, which reached a point of near lunacy in the Lions’ 37-26 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos Friday.

In a stretch of 2:59 in the second half, Buono and Edmonton counterpart Jason Maas combined to throw four challenge flags that touched off a storm of social media protests from fans stating they’ve had enough, which also may partly explain the drop in television ratings.

New league commissioner Randy Ambrosie said he got the message. “One Saskatchewan Roughriders fan threatened to have me replaced with Gainer the Gopher,” Ambrosie joked on a conference call after announcing coaches will now only receive one challenge per game and no additional flags if successful the first time.

Buono, meantime, was a lot more serious and even more animated Tuesday when he gave a passionate call for change.

“It’s a tremendous reflection on the commissioner’s ability to see what’s going on in the marketplace,” Buono said Wednesday. “When I watch as a fan, I get concerned but when you’re a coach you look at it differently.”

And a few hours earlier, Buono looked at it much differently to be sure.

“(It’s) fishing I don’t like and the fishing that’s killing our game,” he said on his regular weekly appearance on TSN 1040’s 3 Down Radio. “Let’s us as a league say to the coach ‘you can’t fish because we’re not going to let you challenge’.”

Buono said he and Calgary counterpart John Hufnagel have tag-teamed to change some aspects of the challenge process but though the two didn’t have enough support from others on the rules committee to effect additional change is satisfied progress has been made.

It didn’t seem that way in the second half Friday. It began when Maas successfully challenged for pass interference on Lions defender Loucheiz Purifoy in the end zone, which ended in an Eskimos touchdown and the winning points.

Thinking the premise applied on the Purifoy play would work to his benefit two challenges and a couple of minutes later, Buono lost an appeal of a pass reception by Bryan Burnham when the Lions needed help to stay on the field because the second-down grab was short of the yardstick.

Mad as he was about the calls at the time, Buono looked at the Purifoy call the next day and concluded the officiating crew got it right. However he still has no clarity on the Burnham catch, and will still try to get the league to eliminate all challenges on illegal contact plays that aren’t called on the field.

Aware the league was about to announce a change, Buono was vociferous nonetheless during his radio appearance.

“I’m calm compared to some of the meetings. Those meetings sometimes get hostile and they should. If you’re not going to stand on the table and jump up and down for something then you don’t believe it,” he said Tuesday. “I learn everyday myself. I don’t want to sound like I know it all. I got to swallow my pride and say the command centre was right.”

The change in challenges, however, doesn’t alter how the game is being played and in the radio interview the Lions coach said he will attempt to play by the other rules currently in place. Earlier this season, Saskatchewan coach Chris Jones called out Calgary counterpart Dave Dickenson for designing double moves on receiver routes to create illegal contact opportunities.

“Unfortunately our game will change into a challenge fest,” Jones told 3 Down Nation at the time. Buono said he has told Lions offensive coordinator Khari Jones to examine doing exactly the same thing with respect to receivers.

However officiating and the command centre didn’t result in another loss to a team from Alberta, the sixth in eight meetings absorbed by the Lions since Buono returned to the sidelines last season.

B.C. was by far the second-best team on both sides of the line of scrimmage. They also were second-best when it came to coaching, a belief from no less than an authority than Buono himself.

Buono stresses a consistent approach to his team and isn’t big on motivational speeches, but upon review said the approach taken by Maas prior to a battle of the top two divisional rivals at the time was better.

“I didn’t do a good enough job of promoting the game. All year long you build your play at a steady level. Obviously the players didn’t get the message because we didn’t play at the level we wanted. Obviously Jason Maas got his point across. I didn’t get mine across.”

Perhaps Buono might seek solace by going fishing, with bait and a hook.

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.