Mutual admiration

Hufnagel during a press conference with the media on Nov. 14. (Jack Cusano/Calgary Sun/SUN MEDIA)

Hufnagel during a press conference with the media on Nov. 14. (Jack Cusano/Calgary Sun/SUN MEDIA)

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 12:00 PM ET

CALGARY -- Finally, the truth came out yesterday.

After denying he had any preference about which team his club would play in the West final, Stampeders coach John Hufnagel admitted he secretly relished the possibility of facing his mentor, Wally Buono.

"People asked and, deep down inside, I was hoping the B.C. Lions would go out and win that football game and my first West final as a head coach would be against a very good friend," Hufnagel said of the man he worked alongside here for seven seasons in the 1990s.

"I'm very pleased to have this opportunity."

Generally recognized as the duo that revolutionized CFL football by introducing five- and six-receiver aerial attacks now used in every level of football, Buono the head coach and Hufnagel the offensive co-ordinator did so by way of a unique trial and error method explained by quarterback Dave Dickenson.

"I had a sense back then that Wally was doing defence and Huff was doing offence and Wally left him alone with that," said Dickenson, who first joined the Stamps in 1996.

ON TO SOMETHING

"Wally would tell him what's tough on defences. So if Huff had an idea, he would ask Wally how a defence would react to that and Wally would say 'It would stress us here and cause problems there,' and then Huff knew he was on to something."

They were on to something all right, developing some of the era's top quarterbacks and teams en route to six West Division titles in seven years.

Fitting, then, that today's matchup essentially boils down to how well Buono's vaunted defence fares against Hufnagel's multi-faceted offence.

Should the Stamps prevail the irony is that Buono will then have been beaten at his own game as Hufnagel admits almost everything he's done to add structure to the organization is based on what he learned here during their time together.

"Having the ability to work with Wally all those years, a lot of those other experiences still fall under that same style of what you want. I was fortunate to be able to learn under one of the most successful coaches in the CFL."

WILDLY SUCCESSFUL

After parlaying that knowledge and success into an impressive string of opportunities in the NFL, Hufnagel has made a wildly successful return to the city in which he played and coached.

"I wasn't surprised," said Buono of Hufnagel's impact, turning a 7-11 squad into a 13-5 powerhouse.

"John's not only a tremendous football man, but a quality person. At the end of the day, too much is made of the coach and not enough of the man -- a family man with integrity and great work habits.

"If John ever wanted to come back and work for me, he wouldn't have to ask. But he's way overqualified to be an assistant coach. The CFL needs men like John -- they're hard to find."

Hufnagel's decision to return to the CFL was actually spurred by an invitation to guest coach with Buono two training camps ago.

So even though the Stamps and their fans have much to thank Buono for, his payback could very well come in the form of a loss that both men insist their friendship can easily endure.

"There's a lot of respect, but one thing I sense is that there's also a pretty good competitiveness between the two," said Dickenson of the two men who largely shaped his career. "Wally's No. 1 thing is finding personnel and Huff is more of an x's and o's guy."

Together, they were deadly.

Apart, neither one can lose in the other's eyes.


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