VANCOUVER -- If it hasn't already, reality is about to set in for many involved — directly and indirectly — with the B.C. Lions when they open training camp on June 3, and Wally Buono is no longer the on-field commander.
Buono officially stepped aside from the head coaching duties of the Lions on Dec. 5, although he still retained the title as general manager, just eight days after B.C. went from being forgotten about at 0-5, to Grey Cup champions. Buono, the team's coaching staff, including his successor as head coach Mike Benevides, players and those familiar with the local Canadian Football League team have all had time to digest the announcement and impending changes.
These are changes Buono, the league holder for most career regular-season wins as a head coach with 254, is at peace with.
But surely, with the days rolling off the calendar ever faster to the start of camp, he's thought about this change in roles. Right?
"Honestly, I haven't. I hope Mike has. I haven't. I'm comfortable with my role, I'm comfortable with what I believe I can bring to the football club," Buono told reporters Tuesday at the Lions' practice facility in Surrey as he formally introduced the team's two first-round picks — second overall Jabar Westerman and seventh overall Kirby Fabien — from last week's CFL Canadian draft.
"Coaching is not something at this point that I'm stressing about. My stress right now is making sure I can get these guys under contract, finalize our roster, because I think the next two camps are going to hopefully give us somebody that's going to be an impact player for us.
“You know, making sure that everything goes well in terms of getting the guys here, getting training camp in order and then allow the coaches and the players to go out and build a good football team."
Buono's first gig as head coach in the CFL came in 1990, with the Calgary Stampeders. He is a four-time coach of the year winner, including in 2011 when most counted the Lions out of contention at 0-5 — and if not then surely at 1-6 — and a five-time Grey Cup champ, two of those coming during his tenure with B.C.
The December decision to move aside was his, and his alone. And that's probably the best reason why Buono says he isn't overly focused on the individual significance of that June 3 date, when, for the first time in three decades, he'll enter a CFL training camp not as a head coach.
"This is not something that was forced on me, or asked of me, or even implied,” Buono said later in a phone interview.
"This is something that I've wanted to do and I wanted to do it because I felt it was the proper time for the change. I think that Mike was very deserving of the opportunity and I thought for my own self and for my own value to the club, eliminating one of the roles was what I think is essential.
"I'm not going to say that I'm not going to miss it, because I'm not sure yet. I still have a tremendous passion to be in football, but more on the administrator level that I'm at."
Aside from questions about training camp, Buono was eager to chat about Westerman, a defensive lineman out of Eastern Michigan who turns 23 next week, and Fabien, a 21-year-old offensive lineman from the University of Calgary.
Both players met with the Vancouver media for the first time Tuesday. Both come into a Lions organization with high expectations placed upon them.
"From what the GM said, he said that I'm supposed to come in and start right away and be able to make an impact on the team," said Westerman.
"Hopefully I live up to his standards and I can do that for him."
Eyes and ears perked up when reporters noticed Westerman will wear the No. 99 for the Lions.
"I idolized Warren Sapp, I look up to him," said Westerman. "A lot of greats wore 99, so why not keep the great going and stick 99?"
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|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|