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Wally Buono and the comeback kings

The BC Lions started the year 0-5. Things were looking rough. Jobs and possibly careers were on the line. For head coach Wally Buono, it was just another day at the office.

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By Sean Evans (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 30, 2011

The BC Lions started the year 0-5. Things were looking rough. Jobs and possibly careers were on the line. For head coach Wally Buono, it was just another day at the office.

Buono, now tied for the most Grey Cup victories (five) for a head coach, spoke with the Montreal Gazette prior to Sunday’s game about how he managed to wake up the Lions: “I don’t know how I got the players to buy in,” Buono said. “One day we had a shouting match. It was internal, but maybe it was enough. From that day on, things changed.”

Things clearly did change. Going into the Grey Cup last Sunday, the Lions had won 11 of their last 12, and had showed the CFL that they were going to dominate on their home turf.

And, that they did last Sunday as they took home the coveted Grey Cup. For Buono, the victory was a statement to the league. “They proved they are champions,” Buono said, speaking with The Toronto Sun. “In the end, it was character that we had got us through the season.”

Defensive lineman, Brent Johnson commented on the comeback as well: “The way we came from where we were to where we are right now was such a journey. All these guys, they worked their asses off. And it paid off. Everybody was putting us aside, but if you stick with your teammates, good things will happen.”

Good things did happen, and perhaps much can be attributed to Buono’s efforts. Throughout the season he was questioned, the team was questioned—yet Buono managed to hold things together. In an interview with The Vancouver Sun, Angus Reid said of the veteran coach: “This year, more than ever he had to employ psychology with this team, to not let us crumble, to not let us fail. He kept us believing.”

“He didn’t turn on us. He didn’t start thinking about next year. He didn’t think it was time to rebuild. He kept us believing until we started proving him right,” Reid continued. “There was no finger-pointing, which can happen on a lot of 0-5 teams that have the pressure of the Grey Cup at home.”

The BC Lions are, in every way, Buono’s team. As general manager and coach, the praise and blame all land on his doorstep. While most crumble when the going gets tough, he seems to thrive under the pressure of adversity. Star receiver Geroy Simon, also speaking with The Vancouver Sun, put it simply: “He stuck to his guns when everyone told him he was crazy and wrong.”

Indeed, the Grey Cup game itself had its own ups and downs, but Buono and the Lions were well versed in facing adversity and responded to the challenge. “The ebb and flow of this game was no different than the season,” said Buono, speaking with The National Post.

But again, Buono was on the sidelines with his cool, collected appearance. Speaking with The National Post, Reid noted the impact of having Buono at the helm: “Wally made us still believe, and we worked our butts off, nobody threw in the towel nobody turned on each other… He told us we’re a good team, keep working. We did what he said, we fought for the man beside us.”

Buono never lost confidence in his team. It seems to have worked out pretty nicely for Wally and the gang. Pretty nicely, indeed.

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