Buono ends coaching career on top

Wally Buono speaks with the media at the Lions practice facility in Surrey, B.C., Nov. 28, 2011....

Wally Buono speaks with the media at the Lions practice facility in Surrey, B.C., Nov. 28, 2011. (BEN NELMS/Reuters)

HOSEA CHEUNG, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:10 PM ET

VANCOUVER - Wally Buono's time as head coach of the B.C. Lions is over.

In an anticipated move, Buono stepped down Monday as the Lions head coach but will remain with the team as the vice president of football operations and general manager.

"This whole step is about keeping the club at a very high level, on and off the field," Buono said. "Thinking about this now for more than a year, it's time that somebody else be the voice, be the main figure when it comes to coaching this football club.

"I'm not sad about this because I believe football has been good to me. Coaching has been a tremendous passion of mine and what I'm doing will hopefully be an asset to whoever is the next coach and be an asset to this organization in other ways."

The announcement ends Buono's nine seasons as B.C.'s coach and general manager. He is the CFL's all-time coaching wins leader.

Since joining the club in 2003 after 13 seasons with the Calgary Stampeders, the 61-year-old put together a record of 101-60-1, and took the Lions to seven division finals and three Grey Cup games, winning twice. His latest title victory, of course, came last week against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at BC Place, allowing him to go out on top.

"It's time to move on and we move on with great expectations," said Buono, who added that the decision to step down was finalized Monday morning. "This was not a foregone conclusion based on winning or losing. I'm just not sure that the same voice can be heard again. Where the coaches and the players took us this year was historic.

"When 2012 comes, that's over. You need to now start the journey to build your team, build your environment to win again. That message will be clearer, will be stronger, will be more effective if someone else is telling it."

Buono, who has a career coaching record of 254-139-3, said the team will be hiring a replacement quickly. Lions defensive co-ordinator Mike Benevides is thought to be the front runner.

While he wouldn't disclose the names of candidates, Buono said he has someone in mind.

"The reason I believe this person is a good candidate is because of the opportunities that's been afforded to him and how he's taken the opportunities and grown with it," Buono said. "I'm describing somebody that I have a close relationship with. In my mind, it's either going to be 'yay' or 'nay.' And if it's 'nay,' I'll go to the next person. That's how I believe it should be done."

Veteran slotback Geroy Simon, who has been on the Lions since 2001, called it a sad day.

"Wally has been a big part of my career for a long time," Simon said. "If it wasn't for Wally, I probably wouldn't be in football. It's also kind of exciting because we don't know what's going to happen in the future. I was here when it wasn't so great and Wally turned this thing around. The B.C. Lions organization is definitely in a better place than when he first got here."


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