It’s not quite ‘Mission Accomplished’ just yet – that would require a Grey Cup victory later this year – but for BC Lions coach Wally Buono, last week’s win over the Edmonton Eskimos was an important game, nonetheless.
The victory – 42-32 win Oct. 19 at B.C Place – improved the Lions’ Canadian Football League record to 9-7, and cemented for the team a playoff berth, ensuring that Buono’s final season on the sidelines lasts just a little bit longer than the 18-game regular season.
The goal of qualifying for the post-season has been front-and-centre for the Surrey resident and his Leos all season who, despite a 3-6 start to the season, have been among the league’s hottest teams of late.
That focus hasn’t waned, even if Buono is still peppered by retirement questions during his media scrums – a fact of life since he announced prior to the season that 2018 would be his final year.
“This year’s been up and down… but at this point, no, I haven’t had a change of heart (about retirement),” he explained after a recent practice at the team’s Surrey training facility.
While the Lions are in the playoffs, their postseason path is anything but decided. They could play any number of teams depending on how the rest of the regular season plays out – scenarios that include crossing over to the East Division.
The Lions play the Saskatchewan Roughriders Saturday in Regina.
And while Buono has been loathe to make this final season an overly sentimental farewell tour, there have been a few moments in which he’s had a chance to reflect on a career that will see him retire as the winningest coach in CFL history.
At training camp in Kamloops, his family – including wife Sande, four children and six grand-children – joined him for the team’s Fan Fest event, and prior to the team’s game in Calgary Oct. 13, the Stampeders honoured Buono, who coached in Cowtown from 1987-2002, with a pre-game video tribute.
For Buono, the opportunity to look back on his time in Calgary – in which he led the Stamps to six Grey Cup games and three titles – “was nice” but he insisted it was probably more fun for his current players to see video clips of their then-younger coach on the big screen at McMahon Stadium.
“I think it was nice for the players to see it all… and I have a lot of good memories,” he said.
Prior to kick off, the @calstampeders showed a tribute video for their former head coach, Wally Buono, who is coaching in his final regular season game in Calgary.#CFLGameDay pic.twitter.com/0cXI2NoZiQ
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) October 14, 2018
However, video tributes and media inquiries asides, the longtime football coach is focused on the rest of the season and, hopefully, a long playoff run.
“It’s about winning the next game – that’s my sole focus,” he said.
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