Buono to be ‘more reckless’ in final CFL season

A better team and a different disposition on the part of his owner might have changed his approach but because neither happened for the BC Lions last year they’re about to see Wally Buono coach as they’ve never seen him before.

In his final year as a CFL coach, get ready for Wally the gunslinger.

It was the Lions’ turn Wednesday to take part in a league-mandated preview conference call and like every year, Buono didn’t disappoint. He was asked if he’d try to coach differently as he is preparing for semi-retirement.

To those who think Buono-coached teams have been lacking adequate pressure packages defensively and aren’t creative enough with the ball, the answer could be a godsend from the godfather.

“I have been thinking about being a little more reckless,” he said. “You know how conservative I am, how I am about a lot of things… How about this: I’m going to adopt Don Matthews’ mindset a little about letting go a little bit; not being dumb but being more aggressive, courageous, because at the end of it the coaches surrounding me will give me the options to do that with confidence.”

To be sure, Buono hasn’t forgotten the number of times new offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson liked to air out his arm behind centre for the Lions, or how often new special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold used to burn him on gadget plays.

“It’s not them, it’s me,” Buono continued. “This is my last year. I’m going to work harder at trying to win and if that means I got to take more risks, what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen, they’re going to fire me?”

Let it be said quite simply, the man’s candor is going to be missed as much as his coaching acumen.

He suggested he’ll try to avoid becoming the story in his final season but based on the number of media questions already this week prefaced on his final minicamp or start of his last training camp for example, it won’t likely be successful.

And if last season would have unfolded differently, he’d be off bonding with his grandchildren already. Prior to the preview call, Buono reflected on what took place as the Lions missed the playoffs for the first time in two decades, and how a man who has had almost a complete say over every facet of the operation since 2003 seemingly has transitioned to become a co-operative leader alongside new general manager Ed Hervey.

Among Buono’s first conclusions: Perhaps he should have hired someone like Hervey in 2011 to run David Braley’s team after coaching the Lions to their last Grey Cup.

“I learned a lot in the last five years. If I wasn’t so tired and worn out in 2011, I should have coached and had another GM in 2012, but I didn’t,” said Buono, who last served solely as a coach in 1991 in Calgary. “I don’t want total control. It’s not a matter of it being taken away from me.”

Buono reaffirmed the fact if Braley had decided to sell the team, rather than maintain ownership in the face of unresolved litigation by Arland Bruce, he would have left last year, but pressed the owner about his sense of direction for the Lions.

“If David had sold Dec. 1, I was gone. If David and I couldn’t agree on the direction of the club, I was gone. David was very supporting,” said Buono.

“I didn’t walk away because David’s my boss but he’s also my friend, and when a friend asks you to help you don’t turn your back on him. I’ve put 15 years of my life into this and I hated us to see where we we’re at. I believe we’re in the process; when I’m leaving next year it will be in way better hands.”

Ask Buono if he might reconsider his decision if the Lions have a good 2018 season and a negative response is offered before a lowly questioner can finish his sentence. Buono will be around next season; he admitted he has a contract with Braley that goes into the 2019 season, though won’t talk specifics. He’ll do dinners on behalf of the club. He won’t do things like the draft.

And he’ll do it, he says, having experienced coaching as a risk-taker.

LIONS TALES: In an apparent effort to avoid a repeat of the scenario when he tried to get through training camp while rehabbing an injured shoulder, Travis Lulay will hold an open workout Friday, which the Lions hope will be the final hurdle following off-season knee surgery towards taking a training camp roster spot… Hervey said the signing this week of national linebacker Bo Lokombo does not mean the club is no longer interested in bringing back Micah Awe, whose NFL options were similarly derailed last week… The determination of receiver Kevin Elliott, who 3DownNation reported funded his own way to attend the club’s mini-camp/tryout prior to the draft, has paid off in the form of a signed contract. The club still has a handful of roster spots still available before camp opens May 20 in Kamloops… BC also Wednesday released veteran DB/ST Matt Bucknor, no surprise ever since fellow non-import Cauchy Muamba was signed earlier in the off-season

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.