Wally Buono hopes his final season on the sidelines in the CFL is fitting of his status as the league’s career coaching wins leader.
The plan was much different last year. The 68-year-old Buono had hoped to deliver a 21st straight playoff appearance by the Lions, and end a 46-year relationship with the league by heading into retirement. However, the Lions went 1-6 down the stretch, fan discord grew and owner David Braley decided not to sell the franchise.
Instead, Buono hired former Edmonton Eskimos general manager Ed Hervey to the same position with the Lions. Buono told Braley he will leave after the upcoming season regardless of whether the owner maintains control of the franchise.
“I didn’t walk away because David’s my boss, but I also see him as my friend. When a friend asks you to help him, you don’t turn your back on him,” Buono said.
Hervey, fired in Edmonton prior to the 2017 season, saw many troubling aspects when watching the Lions during his year in exile, and made changes to all facets of the operation.
BC was last in sacks and pressures allowed, and in the bottom third in the league in sacks and pressures made defensively. Quarterback Jonathon Jennings also led the CFL in interceptions. BC had trouble on special teams, returning and covering kicks.
The result has left the Lions guaranteed to have six new starters along the line of scrimmage, eight on defence and 13 overall. Another key: Four changes on Buono’s coaching staff.
Not all similar extreme makeovers are successful. BC had a 5-2 start last season, prompting suggestions a more modest approach would have been ideal. Buono simply hopes to stabilize the franchise in 2018 before allowing Hervey to make his first Lions coaching hire.
Breakdown of the 2018 BC Lions
Wally Buono, entering third season of current run.
7-11, missed playoffs.
With 33 new faces on various rosters, there’s plenty of choice. Defensive lineman Odell Willis has been given the task of reshaping locker-room culture and providing a much-needed pass rush along with fellow newcomer Gabe Knapton. BC is hoping for an offensive spark from wideout Ricky Collins, better protection from offensive linemen Joel Figueroa and Jovan Olafioye, and improved special-teams play from Ottawa free agent signing Keelan Johnson.
Offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones did not have his contract renewed. Wideout Chris Williams was traded. Craig Roh, Mich’ael Brooks, Chandler Fenner and Loucheiz Purifoy were members of last year’s starting defence who exited. Receivers Nick Moore and Marco Iannuzzi opted for retirement.
Players to watch
Quarterback Jonathon Jennings is in the final year of his current contract. A repeat of his 2017 performance will not get him another new deal. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian, the CFL’s single-season tackles leader, will be motivated after losing league top defensive player honours.