Genius had to walk

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

Over the last few days, Wally Buono has been praised by scribes from coast to coast who rave about his honesty, diligence, loyalty and work ethic.

They talk of the class, structure and credibility he brings to the table as the second-sharpest mind in CFL lore, next to Don Matthews.

After 15 years in the league, they call him a legend.

They are correct.

While the good people of Calgary anointed him an icon over the course of the 13 years -- including six Grey Cup appearances he spent heading up the CFL's Team of the '90s -- the rest of the country is now in on our little secret. Turning the B.C. Lions into a profitable, entertaining, championship team in two short years will do that for a guy.

A quick study in the way he runs a franchise, a dressing room, a press conference or a phone conversation underlines the fact one needn't look at his record to know he is a certified CFL genius.

He just is.

Turns out they got it right two years ago when Buono was welcomed to Vancouver with a local headline trumpeting him as, 'The Second Coming.'

All that said, it's important for Calgary fans to realize the Stamps had to rid themselves of him.

Make no mistake, the way in which Buono was pushed out of town was handled as poorly as the Ward 10 election but Michael Feterik's desire to end Buono's 13-year tenure made sense.

Despite the fact the Stampeders have since struggled with two head coaches in two years, letting Buono go was not a mistake. It was the only option.

In a city where the only credit Feterik ever gets is from the bank, locals should at least acknowledge he made the move for the right reasons.

Although it was Buono who almost single-handedly devised the game plans that saw Calgary bounce back from an 8-10 record to win the 2001 Grey Cup, the head coach and GM was despised by his players the latter years of his tenure here because of his dual role.

The practise of beating up on players in the boardroom during contract time and then demanding their loyalty on the field months later created an environment in which the players were on the cusp of a full-blown mutiny.

Several key Stamps had decided they'd never again play for Buono and free agents around the league felt the same way.

Front-office staff had also grown tired of his demeaning approach behind closed doors and he had lost the respect of many at McMahon for bowing to Feterik's insistence his son Kevin be kept on the roster as a third-string quarterback.

It was a hardship Buono told his coaches was part of the 'new reality' in Calgary, where the owner would have a say in the most important roster position on the squad. Buono didn't like it but instead of standing up to the owner on the most crucial of issues, he towed the company line much to the dismay of his players and staff.

After a second-straight losing season and with the entire franchise in turmoil, Buono was told to stay away from the office. He had his abilities questioned publicly by Feterik and Fred Fateri. It quickly became clear changes had to be made at the top and it was going to be messy.

The bottom line is Buono's dismissal was handled in a classless fashion, setting an ugly tone for the Feterik era the fans have never forgiven the owner for.

Still, Buono had to go. His tenure here had run its course. He'd be the first to admit it.


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