B.C. LIONS

‘Losing is something I’ve never gotten used to’: coaching great Wally Buono

The 68-year-old has had an undeniable impact in his 490 appearances as B.C. Lions head coach

Wally Buono doesn’t want the B.C. Lions focused on winning for him in the CFL playoffs.

Instead, he’s consistently told his players to be internally motivated and pull for the team, not for a single individual — even if that individual is standing on retirement’s doorstep.

“Obviously he’s a guy that you respect. You want to see him go out in a special way,” said Lions quarterback Travis Lulay. “But that really isn’t the motivation.”

Buono is set to conclude his CFL career at the end of the season. He’s spent the past 46 years in the league, first as a player with the Montreal Alouettes, then as a coach and general manager for the Calgary Stampeders and then the B.C. Lions.

The 68-year-old has had an undeniable impact in his 490 appearances as head coach. He’s clinched five Grey Cups and has more wins than any other coach in the league’s history.

“Losing is something I’ve never gotten used to,” Buono told reporters last week. “I enjoy walking off the field and winning. I really don’t enjoy walking off the field and being a loser.”

Sunday could mark Buono’s last game, as the Lions (9-9) face off against the Hamilton Tiger-cats (8-10) in the East semifinal.

Despite the looming landmark, the coach doesn’t want to talk about what retirement may hold. He just wants to focus on football.

“This is why you play the game, this is why you coach the game. It’s an opportunity to win a championship,” he said.

Football may be his focus, but it’s leadership and mentorship that set him apart, his colleagues said.

READ MORE: B.C. Lions look to be first-ever crossover team to win Grey Cup

READ MORE: ‘Business as usual’ as BC Lions’ Wally Buono enters final CFL season

“He’s got a big heart. Wally likes people and he respects his players. He knows what it takes to win,” said Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson.

Dickenson played quarterback for the Lions from 2003 to 2007, and said he only joined with the club because Buono had just become the head coach.

“That was the bottom line. If Wally hadn’t been here, I probably would have signed somewhere else,” Dickenson said. “I can trust Wally. Wally is a very trustworthy person and what you see is what you get. And I knew he was a winner, too, so I knew we could win when I got here. And we did.”

More than 600 players have suited up for Buono in at least one game over the years. Many credit him with launching their football careers.

“He was really the first guy in professional management that believed I could play,” said Lulay, who has spent all 10 years of his CFL career with the Lions.

“I had bounced around the NFL and had just a few brief opportunities here and there. But even then, I felt like if I could get on the field, I believed I could prove I could play. And Wally actually gave me that chance.”

The veteran quarterback won a Grey Cup with Buono in 2011 and vividly remembers his coach’s words before the championship game.

“The way he spoke to the team, it was as if the win had already happened,” Lulay said, noting that Buono told them how chaotic the post-game scene would be and gave them directions on where they should gather for a team photo.

His confidence in the moment was “really cool,” Lulay said.

“We’re going ‘Man, coach really believes we’re going to win this game.’ I just remember that feeling really permeate our locker-room. It was like there was no chance that we weren’t going to win that football game.”

Buono has been a role model and inspiration off the field, too.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson famously thanked Buono for cutting him from the Stampeders practice roster in 1995, saying the experience was a turning point in his life.

Lions fullback Rolly Lumbala said he’s been fortunate to have a front-row seat that allowed him to soak up some of “Wally’s wisdom” over the past 11 years.

“Sometimes you have to make the hard decisions. Sometimes the unpopular choices of releasing or trading people for the greater good. I’ve seen him do that and I’ve seen him handle it,” Lumbala said.

Buono is also known as a dedicated family man. His wife, Sande, four children and six grandchildren often attend Lions’ games, with some of the kids drawing motivational posters in marker and others waiting outside the locker room for “Papa” to bring out a Gatorade.

No matter the score, Buono greats them with hugs and smiles.

The behaviour isn’t lost on his players.

“I came in as a young man and now I have a family, I have a daughter,” Lumbala said. ”I see what he’s done, a leadership role, a mentorship, what type of family man he is. And that’s definitely somebody I look up to.”

Last week the Lions celebrated Buono’s accomplishments at the club’s final home game. Thousands of “Wally heads” — giant images of his face on sticks — were placed throughout the stadium and bobbleheads in his likeness were sold on the concourse.

His former players lined the field before kickoff, showering him with hugs and handshakes after he ran out of the tunnel.

Messages of thanks flashed on the big screen during stoppages in play.

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come and play up there,” Cameron Wake, now a defensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins, said in one. “I learned so much, had a tremendous time, still think about it every day when I’m playing.”

The Lions lost to the Calgary Stampeders, but chants of “Wally, Wally” still echoed through the crowd of more than 24,000.

In his post-game interview, Buono said he appreciated all that the club had done but he was visibly uncomfortable with being the centre of attention.

“It was great. It was nice to be acknowledged, it was nice to have all the tributes, it was nice of the organization,” he said. ”But in the midst of trying to coach and play a football game, I blame myself for the players maybe being a little bit distracted.”

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Walnut Grove’s Shawn Meehan (front) has started another band, Trigger Mafia. This local country rocker has put country on the shelf, and is going hard-core rock with this group, releasing their first single last Friday to radio. It started as a way to pass the time during the COVID lockdown, and evolved. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Langley musician drives rock revival with COVID twist

Trigger Mafia goes straight from the garage to radio with raw lyrics

A reminder to students at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Teachers, staff should be included in contact tracing: Surrey Teachers’ Association president

STA says there is also ‘no harm in going even further’ with a mask mandate

A reminder to students at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Five Surrey schools reporting COVID-19 exposures

INTERACTIVE TABLE: Search for schools, organize by exposure dates

The peninsula’s Community Christmas Day Dinner at White Rock Baptist Church – seen here in 2019 – has been cancelled for 2020, because of pandemic-inspired limitations on gatherings. (File photo)
Annual Community Christmas dinner ‘just not possible’ this year

Organizers vow that 40 years-plus Semiahmoo Peninsula tradition will return, post-COVID

Strawberry Hill Hall is being renovated and moved to another location on its existing corner lot in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey’s historic Strawberry Hill Hall being moved a few metres in $1.2M reno project

Childcare spaces coming to corner lot where hall has stood for 111 years

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks Thursday (Oct. 29) during a news conference held at Fraser Health office, in video posted to Facebook. (Photo: Government of British Columbai/Facebook)
COVID-19 ‘disproportionately’ affecting Fraser Health: Henry

Health region has about 75 per cent of B.C.’s active cases

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

Most Read