Buono can Huf and puff

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

Earlier this week, Wally Buono took time to leave John Hufnagel a voicemail.

Wishes of encouragement, perhaps, from the B.C. Lions coach who employed Hufnagel as his offensive co-ordinator in Calgary from 1990 to '96?

Guess again.

"It was concerning a play that occurred in the pre-season game against B.C.," revealed Hufnagel, who refused to get into the details but insisted the words 'good luck' weren't a part of the message.

"We'll get reacquainted after the season is over."

On Tuesday, Buono heaved another memo over the mountains, telling the Vancouver media he vehemently disagreed with Hufnagel's decision to close his practices all week, citing competitive advantages the league needs to eliminate.

"I was not surprised -- I knew he'd try to stir something up," said Hufnagel of Buono's comments.

Indeed, up until yesterday, Buono had a funny way of welcoming his longtime pal and colleague to the CFL head coaching ranks. However, at yesterday's pre-game press conference hyping tonight's season-opener at McMahon, the Lions coach voiced his true feelings for a man who instantly added credibility to a franchise sorely lacking in it since Buono left.

"John being back in the league is a big plus for all of us, not just the Stampeders," said Buono, who invited Hufnagel to guest coach with the Lions in 2007, which made him realize it was time to return north.

"The more high-profile, competent, original individuals in the game, the better our league is. What he did in the '90s revolutionized the CFL. He really changed football."

Buono was referring to the five-receiver set Hufnagel made so popular across North America -- an approach that helped distance the CFL from the NFL in terms of entertainment value.

Tonight, it's anyone's guess how his troops will respond in his CFL head coaching debut, which is part of the reason Hufnagel opted to close practices to stunningly petty local media who whined about it incessantly.

As if the fans care.

"I want to say to the local media, I appreciate your understanding," said Hufnagel. "One of the reasons I made that decision is we are a young team and I tried as much as I could to insulate them so they could best prepare. It was a one-time deal.

"Being the first game, we'll find out (tonight) where we are as a football team."

Indeed we will, and given how rudderless this franchise has been the last handful of years, it's safe to say fans will be happy as long as they see the defence progress to the point it's comparable to the team's veteran offence.

When reminded the Stamps haven't fared well against B.C. since Buono moved west, Hufnagel laughed.

"Is that right? I didn't notice."

People will notice everything he does tonight.

"Amidst all the cloak and dagger that goes on, it's still 12 on 12," said Buono, downplaying the role he and Hufnagel will play once the game kicks off at 8 p.m.

"The coach is really just a spectator. What he's doing is trying to get the pulse of the game. His job is to manage the game by throwing a challenge flag, calling a timeout, taking a chance on third down.

"If you don't like something, you whisper to your (offensive co-ordinator) and they don't listen to you anyway. John didn't -- he couldn't hear in one ear and had the (headset) on the other."

We kid those we love.


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