TORONTO — Canadian Football League legend Wally Buono capped a storybook ending to his coaching career today when he was named Coach of the Year for 2011.
“It’s fitting that as we prepare to celebrate the 100th Grey Cup, we bestow this honour on a true leader who has long epitomized what is best about our league,” said CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon, after presenting Buono with the prestigious Annis Stukus Trophy at luncheon in Toronto.
“Wally Buono’s resume as a head coach ensures he will be remembered alongside the legendary names in CFL history – and 2011 may have been the pinnacle of his storied career.”
Buono’s British Columbia Lions won the 99th Grey Cup game last November at BC Place in Vancouver, defeating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers by a score of 34-23.
Not only did the win come on home soil, it completed a remarkable turnaround year for the Lions. Their 0-5 start to the season had some pundits questioning Buono’s coaching, despite the fact he had led teams to four previous Grey Cup victories , had won the league’s Coach of the Year award three times, and had won more regular season games than any other CFL coach in history.
The team responded by winning 11 of their remaining 13 regular season games, capturing first place in the Western Division and a berth in the Grey Cup, courtesy of a 40-23 Western Final victory over the Edmonton Eskimos.
“Wally often tells his players that life is seldom easy, and the greatest rewards are those you have to overcome adversity to achieve,” Cohon said. “The Lions’ success is 2011 is a testament to his philosophy, character and leadership.”
During this off-season, Buono announced his retirement from coaching, although he remains the Lions’ General Manager and Vice-President of Football Operations.
He received 45 first place votes in the Coach of the Year balloting conducted among 56 voting members of the Football Reporters of Canada, including journalists in every CFL market as well as a national chapter.
The other nominees for the award – Paul LaPolice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Kavis Reed of the Edmonton Eskimos – are part of the breed of new young coaches in the CFL.
Both completed turnaround seasons of their own. LaPolice’s Bombers captured first place in the Eastern Division, and a berth in the Grey Cup, after winning just four games the previous season. In his first year as the head coach in Edmonton, Reed led his team to a 11 –7 record, and a berth in the Western Final, one year after the Eskimos failed to make the playoffs.
Here’s a quick look at Wally Buono’s coaching career, by the numbers:
• Grey Cup victories: Five (1992, 1998, and 2001 with Calgary Stampeders and 2006 and 2011 with B.C. Lions – tied for most all-time with Don Matthews, Hugh Campbell, and Frank Clair)
• Grey Cup games coached: 9 (tied for most all-time with Don Matthews)
• Coach of the Year: 1992, 1993 (Calgary Stampeders), 2006 and 2011 (BC Lions)
• Regular season victories: 254 (the most in CFL history — Don Matthews has 231, Frank Clair 147, Ron Lancaster 142, Eagle Keys 131 Ray Jauch 127, Dave Ritchie 108, Bob O’Billovich 107, Bud Grant 102, Cal Murphy 99.)
• Became CFL head coach with the most regular season wins on September 19, 2009 with 23-17 win over Toronto, giving him 232 wins
• Lifetime regular season record: 254 wins, 139 losses and 3 ties
• Lifetime regular season winning percentage: .645 (first among coaches with 100 or more games, and sixth all-time).
• Playoff wins:17 (second to only Frank Clair, who had 22)
• Lifetime playoff record: 17-12
• Years coaching: 22 (1990-2011)
• Years in the playoffs: 21 (most all-time, ahead of Don Matthews 18 and Frank Clair 17)
• Playoff games coached: 29 (second only to Frank Clair’s 40)