Leaving ‘mess’ might be hard for Lions’ Buono

It has always been one of the remarkable qualities of Wally Buono that he is often able to occupy space on both sides of a debate, and it was no different Tuesday when the coach/GM of the B.C. Lions turned heads again after he was asked about his future with the CFL club.

In his weekly radio appearance on TSN 1040 Monday, Buono slightly opened the door about a possible return next season for the first time but when pressed further Tuesday made a case for both leaving and staying, while admitting nothing would come clear anyway until a post-season discussion with owner David Braley. Just the way the winningest coach in league history had it drawn up at the start of the season. Keep ‘em guessing.

Nonetheless, Buono said on his radio show that it would be difficult to leave if he hasn’t left his successor a contending team, and Tuesday doubled down when asked if it would be tough to exit if the Lions failed to make the playoffs for the first time during his B.C stay that would also mark the end of a 20-year overall run.

“I’ve said all along that ultimately the decision wasn’t going to be made until the end of the year. I won’t know how I truly, truly feel (until) November and I’ve got to say ‘where is the good Lord leading me’?” he said Tuesday.

“And it might be hard to leave it in this mess. I can’t sit here today and tell you there isn’t a chance (he would return for 2018). I would be lying. I wanted it to be known I’m not making that decision and I shouldn’t. I should be evaluated.”

At the same time the 67-year-old grandfather, who has just moved into a new home and hasn’t always been a picture of perfect health in his 15th season leading the Lions, admits he has a definite sense which way he is leaning.

“I can see one way of things being changed is if the good Lord changes how I feel at the end of the year. I’m leaving that door open if the good Lord changes my heart,” he said.

A day earlier in a different setting, Buono was asked on radio if the losing this season has made him rethink his decision.

“Honestly, I’ve struggled with a lot of things knowing that this possibly could be my last year, but I told David, and anybody that’s asked, that I committed to 2017 to coach, I do have a contract beyond that, and I really don’t know the next step until after the season is over.

“That’s the most honest answer I can give you and it’s the most consistent answer I believe that I’ve put out there. My wife tells me that if we’re really, really, really close ‘Wally I just don’t see you not coming back.’ I said the same thing, I want to have the season over. I don’t want to be coaching this football club if I’m not 100 per-cent committed. At this point, it’s too hard on everybody and it’s not fair to the players, it’s not fair to the fans, you’ve got to be in it all the way and I believe I have been that this year – it’s been a tough year, I’m not going to sit here and say it hasn’t. But we can do something about it, I can do something about it.”

Buono has stated during difficult seasons previously that Braley will decide his future but the owner has also repeatedly maintained Buono effectively has a lifetime job guarantee, even though his current contract expires in late January.

The ongoing uncertainty as to who will own the franchise also has clouded not only the decision on the head coach but hovers over a number of areas on the business side of the operation. The last time Braley addressed ownership, during a video on the team’s website, he said the team needed to be sold but as has repeatedly been the case, offered no timetable.

As such, a greater short-term dilemma is getting more out of a 6-7 team whose coach/GM maintains has sufficient talent. B.C.’s embarrassing 24-23 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats sparked another review by Buono during the Lions’ recent bye week which has resulted in changes in the team’s practice regimen and promises of an altered approach when they take the field Saturday at B.C. Place Stadium against the Ottawa Redblacks.

“It’s not working …whatever we’ve been doing for 15 weeks isn’t getting the point across,” Buono said.

The result has been changes that according to his top two strategy lieutenants will be evident on the field.

“We need to change some things up,” said offensive coordinator Khari Jones.

“Same-old, same-old won’t get it done,” concurred defensive coordinator Mark Washington.

While the Lions brain trust sees value in altering practice habits there have been no personnel switches among starters from the group which lost to Hamilton at practice so far this week.

A different approach when it comes to the CFL trade deadline Oct. 11 isn’t something that appears as if it will be embraced in a new way either by Buono, who has steadfastly refused to tinker with his lineup in a manner currently familiar to division rivals in Edmonton and Saskatchewan.

Buono suggested the only area he would be willing to bolster is to obtain a veteran quarterback like Zach Collaros or Darian Durant to support Jon Jennings, but said the price tag for such a deal would be prohibitive.

LIONS TALES: The recent move to reacquire defensive lineman Alex Bazzie was behind the decision Tuesday by the Lions to release rookie Kenneth Boatright. Added to the practice roster this week: OL Kelvin Milton, DL Joe Mathis, LB P.J. Davis, WRs Dontre Wilson and Dwayne Stanford. OL Mitchell Van Dyk and QB Quinn Epperly have been dropped… B.C expects to see Trevor Harris behind centre for Ottawa. Harris threw for 326 yards leading Ottawa to a 31-24 win Aug. 26, a game which prompted the initial decision by the Lions to replace Jennings at quarterback.

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.