TORONTO - Wally Buono happily acknowledges he is a bit of a greedy man.
The B.C. Lions general manager/coach easily could have strolled into the football sunset during the off-season with a tag as the winningest coach in Canadian Football League history and four Grey Cup rings.
But the slightest idea that he could win the Grey Cup again helped get Buono’s signature on a contract extension through the 2013 season.
“You watch a team raise that trophy,” Buono said during a conference call on Tuesday, “and you almost envy them. You want to experience that again. Unfortunately, I say it like this, but it’s like a drug. You say: ‘I want to do that again.’ ”
Buono knows that getting his hands on the Cup would be a lot easier if he could find a way to stem the flow of Lions players to the National Football League in the past couple of years. Rising stars Cameron Wake and Stefan Logan pulled up stakes a year ago, and the Lions lost four integral players this past off-season when Ryan Grice-Mullen, Martell Mallett, Rolly Lumbala and Ricky Foley found employment in the NFL.
“You never want to lose veteran players,” Buono said. “The philosophy is to bring in the best players and develop them, and if they get an opportunity to better themselves, you support them and move on.
“The emotion has to take the substance that if a good player leaves, it means you have done a good job of finding talent.”
The Lions were 8-10 in 2009 but managed to upset the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a crossover playoff game before they were blown out of the water by the Montreal Alouettes in the East final.
Changes would have been made simply because it was the Lions’ first sub-.500 season since 2001, but they became absolutely mandatory when the border opened. Also gone are Nautyn McKay-Loescher, JoJuan Armour and Buck Pierce.
Acquired were wide receiver Derick Armstrong, running back Jamal Robertson, linebacker Dennis Haley, cornerback Davis Sanchez and defensive lineman Keron Williams, among others. It’s the latter two who could have the greatest impact.
“With Davis, we change our philosophy and be more physical and aggressive,” Buono said. “He can help set the tone for the defence and that’s critical. And signing Keron also was important.”
Each of the new Lions will have to make the same adjustment as their teammates. The Lions will play at a new Empire Stadium this season while B.C. Place, which opened in 1983, undergoes renovations that will include the installation of a retractable roof.
For the Lions, the player who served as their most important off-season signing was one who already was in-house. Quarterback Casey Printers, the CFL’s most outstanding player in 2004, returned to the Lions last fall after several wayward years and restored Buono’s faith. Printers signed a contract extension in March and will arrive at camp next month as the undisputed starting quarterback.
“Casey won the locker room (late last season),” Buono said. “He excited everybody in the organization and our fans. The No. 1 position on any football team is quarterback and we feel we are in excellent hands.”