B.C. Lions clean out lockers as Wally Buono says good-bye

Long-time B.C. coach let go years of emotion on Tuesday

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Photo by John E. Sokolowski

Story by Alex Rodgerson/ISN

After seeing their 2018 CFL season come to an abrupt end at the hands of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday, the B.C. Lions returned to the Lions’ Surrey practice facility on Tuesday for their year end media availability and locker clean-out. Sunday’s loss to the Tiger-Cats would mark the end of an up-and-down season for the Leos, after staging one of the more memorable mid-season turnarounds in recent team history.

To start the 2018 CFL season, the Lions would drop six of their first nine games overall to find themselves at the bottom of the CFL standings. After a big off-season roster turnover, most of the Lions’ early woes would be mostly attributed to a lot of new faces learning a new B.C. system, with new rhythms and expectations. After some time to mesh, as well as some well-timed additions from B.C. GM Ed Hervey, the Lions would then go 6-3 in their next nine games including at one point winning six of seven overall.

This would catapult the Lions back into CFL playoff relevance as B.C. would see vast improvements on both side of the ball, with the Lions’ secondary especially taking charge as the season would progress. B.C.’s defence, despite missing all-star Solomon Elimimian for the majority of the season, would come together in a big way as the secondary would finish the season with the most interceptions and pass knockdowns in the CFL.

Three Lions from B.C.’s secondary would be nominated for CFL awards in Davon Coleman (Most Outstanding Defensive Player), Bo Lokombo (Most Outstanding Canadian) and Claudell Louis (Most Outstanding Rookie), to go along with career years from Winston Rose, Garry Peters, Anthony Orange, T.J. Lee, and Jordan Herdman. B.C. would also finish the regular season with three players in the CFL top-ten in sacks in Odell Willis, Shawn Lemon and Davon Coleman — all players picked up by GM Hervey within the passed year.

However, after wrapping up the regular season with back-to-back losses to Saskatchewan and Calgary, the Lions once scorching secondary would begin to come down to earth. The Lions’ defence would surrender 423 net-yards on home turf to conclude their regular season with plenty of question marks, as the team would fly east for their CFL playoff game with Hamilton a week later. On a dreary day at Tim Hortons Field the Lions would come out flat against a high energy Tiger-Cats team, and would be unable to match their pace all afternoon. A 48-8 defeat would effectively end the Lions season, as well as their hopes to send their coach off with a Grey Cup.

On Tuesday, It was a somber atmosphere at the Lions’ practice facility as players conducted their final interviews of the season and cleaned out their lockers. Several players were available for comment, as well as retiring coach Wally Buono who would address the media for the final time in his legendary coaching career. The man known as “The Godfather” would seemingly let go years of emotion in what was truly a moment in Vancouver sports history.

Bryan Burnham re: Sunday’s loss to the Tiger-Cats

“Honestly man, looking back on it I was proud.. I was proud of the effort I gave, I was proud of the effort the receiving core gave, that’s the biggest thing I took away from it. The way guys were playing hard, it was just one of those days man. Murphy’s Law.”

re: the Lions’ up & down 2018 campaign

“This has to be one of the most up & down years I’ve ever been apart of, and you know it was special. A lot of lessons were learned this year, we were 3-6 at one point, bottom of the league, everyone had counted us out. Then we won six of seven to clinch a playoff spot, unfortunately we dropped those last two games and in the end I think that’s what hurt us. You’re only as good as you’re last game, and we went into the playoffs on a two game losing streak. It’s not easy just to wake up and turn it on, especially in an East semi-final against a very strong opponent.”

re: his CFL future

“I wanna win championships, and I have faith that Ed’s going to put together a championship team. It’s something that I’d love to be a part of, but things don’t always work out the way you want them to. So we’re going to see how this process goes.”

photo by dave chidley
photo by dave chidley

Travis Lulay re: his optimism about next season & his thoughts on GM Ed Hervey

“Even in this year — it was a unique year, with Ed coming over and little re-structuring and a lot of new players, in a lot of sense we did what a lot of people didn’t expect us to do. I think a lot of that has to do with just the mindset of the front office, from Wally to Ed and then from Ed to the players. My sense of just being around Ed for the year is that he’s just really driven and committed to winning, and that’s a powerful thing and players know that. I think that’s where the optimism comes.”

Jonathon Jennings re: his thoughts on his fourth CFL season

“Obviously we’re all here for a team goal, so that’s what matters most. You know obviously I want my own personal success, but more than anything I want our team to be successful so that’s where my mind was. After the season I’ll have time to digest what exactly happened.”

re: whether or not he feels his future with the Lions is unclear

“I guess you could say that, I mean I’m in a different position than I was a year or two ago but it’s something we’ll look at moving forward.”

Solomon Elimimian re: his thoughts looking back on an injury-riddled season

“For me it was a difficult season with the surgery, but it was a season that I feel I’ll look back on when my football career is over as one I was able to adapt from and learn from. I was able to fight and stay with it. It wasn’t ideal missing so many games, and not knowing if I was going to come back and play. I knew what the specialists said and what his concerns were, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to play and I wasn’t sure if I could play. I gotta thank Wally and Ed for letting me still be a part of it, I was able to travel and still mentor the young guys and still be in that leadership role and help the team. Even though I wasn’t playing, I learned a lot about myself.”

re: how he felt returning to action on Sunday after being side-lined for the majority of the season

“Obviously I felt different not playing for so long, physically I can’t say I was in.. *pause* …top-form, but mentally I was good enough to play and I felt good about it.”

re: if he believes the Lions were too emotional heading into Sunday’s eastern semi-final

“You know that possibly could be. I can only speak for myself, but we just didn’t come out ready to play. I don’t think we came out flat, there were just some drives there that were inconsistent. And Hamilton, they’re a good team and dictated the pace of play. We just didn’t make plays when we had to.”

Wally Buono re: his thoughts on the state of the Lions going forward

“I’m going to say this truthfully.. you know I really believe Ed is the right man. He has a tremendous commitment to winning, he works tirelessly, it’s not about Ed Hervey the General Manager it’s about getting the best people whether it be football players, support staff, coaches, scouts. I thought I was driven, I thought I was focused, but I would say Ed in a lot of ways surpasses even myself. You want to put the organization in the hands of somebody that has a passion for doing things the right way, Ed has that.”

re: His feelings following Sunday’s season-ending loss to Hamilton

“I’ve thought about how tough it was to see a game like that end the season. Not just for me, I think that would be a very selfish thought. But for everybody, when you look at mid-season, not too many people gave this team much opportunity to even make the post-season. It’s humbling and very disappointing, and whether it was by a point or fourty points when you lose you lose. That’s always difficult at this time of year.”

re: his legacy

“The answer you won’t expect, is why me. *long pause* Like I said I’ve been blessed guys. God’s been good to me.”

re: his thoughts on retirement from the CFL
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“Part of retiring is being able to pass on to your children and grandchildren more of your time. I mean what else could there be? I mean golf, okay I’m not sure I can do that. Fishing, okay. But I think it’s what legacy are you leaving other than what you’ve accomplished in the business world. I think that, whether it’s with your children or grandchildren or other people you can help down the road.”

Ed Hervey re: his thoughts on the conclusion to his first season as Lions’ GM

“Whatever kind of play we were having those last two games climaxed into what we saw on Sunday. This team being an emotional team, a team that rides emotional highs and lows of the year, I’m not sure that since they clinched a playoff birth that they were able to generate the type of energy that it takes to proceed. I think for myself, that was most disappointing. As I told them I’m hurt that we didn’t get to advance but I’m proud of them because they were still able to accomplish what many believed they couldn’t do.”

re: the Lions’ roster heading into 2019 and what he believes needs improvement

“Speaking candidly, we need to be more dynamic in some areas, we need more speed in some areas, and I’d like to be longer and more athletic in other areas. My general philosophy hasn’t changed.. youth movement in some areas. Championships are what we’re in it for. You can’t always win the championship but you can have a team competitive enough to do so.”

re: his thoughts on the Lions’ place in today’s evolving Vancouver sports market

“My understanding of fans, is that fans want a team they can identify with. Obviously they want a successful team, they want a team that’s going to go out and play hard, and play sixty minutes. I think this team set a standard with the way they played at home all season. One of our objectives was to make B.C. a dominant place in terms of winning. The diversity of this market should not be an issue — I hear it is at times, but if people want to be entertained, what’s more entertaining than watching a game of football? Even if you don’t understand it, it’s still an exciting game.”

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