November 1, 2018

Berg vs. Ferg: What was Wally Buono’s defining season?


Berg vs. Ferg returns for another season on as columnists Pat Steinberg and Marshall Ferguson debate over some of the league’s most contentious storylines. This week’s question: what was Wally Buono’s defining season?

TORONTO — Saturday night marks the end of an era in the Canadian Football League, as Lions head coach Wally Buono coaches his last regular season game.

Buono split 25 seasons as coach of the Lions (12 seasons) and Stamps (13 seasons), with the latter being the opponent in Saturday’s season finale. He’s the league’s all-time leader with 282 career victories, adding five Grey Cup Championships in nine appearances.

» Lions want to win Buono’s last home game
» The Weekly Say: Who’s the East-Semi favourite?
» View updated standings

But while this Week 21 matchup means everything for the Calgary Stampeders, who need a victory to win the West, there’s some sentimental resonance for the Lions at they try to earn a ‘W’ in Buono’s 450th regular season game.

As we reflect on the career of an all-time great, what was Buono’s defining season as a coach?

Pat Steinberg and Marshall Ferguson weigh in on the latest Berg vs. Ferg:



Last time, Berg and Ferg debated the playoff-bound BC Lions.

» View previous Berg vs. Ferg

Poll Result: Are the BC Lions a legitimate Grey Cup contender?

Last Week’s Poll:

Steinberg: Yes (64%)

Ferguson: No (36%)


Pat_Steinberg_2016Pat Steinberg,

Wally Buono presided over so many incredible teams during his unprecedented CFL career. Of those squads, five of them won Grey Cup titles and every single one has a place in CFL history. But it was Wally’s first championship winning team (at least as head coach) that gets my vote as his very best. The 1992 Calgary Stampeders might be the best team we’ve seen assembled in the last 30 years or so.

1992 marked year three as a CFL coach for Buono and finally saw the Stamps return to the top of the mountain. For context, Calgary hadn’t won a Grey Cup since 1971 entering the ‘92 season and had suffered disappointing defeats in Wally’s first two seasons; that included a 36-21 loss to Toronto in the 79th Grey Cup one year prior. But, after posting a 13-5 regular season, the Stamps won the Western Final 23-22 in dramatic fashion over Edmonton. That set them up for a decisive victory over Winnipeg in the final game of the year and snapped a 21-year title drought in the process.

When you think of that team, you don’t go any further that Doug Flutie. If you don’t consider him the greatest quarterback in CFL history, you can’t argue he’s one of an elite few. Sandwiched between a pair of 6000-yard seasons, Flutie narrowly missed that plateau in 1992 and had a pair of incredible receivers riding shotgun. Hall of Famer Allen Pitts turned in one of his best seasons that year while Canadian Dave Sapunjis was just hitting his stride; he’d go on to win a pair of Most Outstanding Canadian awards in the next three seasons.

But Calgary’s 1992 Grey Cup winner wasn’t just made up of offensive superstars. Five defensive players were named West Division All-Stars that year: Alondra Johnson, Matt Finlay, Will Johnson, Junior Thurman, and Daryl Hall; the latter three would also nab CFL All-Star nods. And don’t forget kicker Mark McLoughlin, either. He just happened to be one of the best kickers of his time and retired as one of the greatest in league history. McLoughlin also booted the Stamps to another title six years later over Hamilton.

The early 1990’s were true glory years for Calgary and the fact they only won a lone title during that stretch doesn’t do justice to how good those teams were. But Wally Buono’s first Grey Cup was with an incredible football team made up of some of the top players of the era. Of all the great teams he presided over, that first title winner takes top honours for me.



Marshall Ferguson,

Wally Buono has coached an inordinate amount of good football teams. That’s an inevitability when you are the winningest coach in the history of the CFL.

For all his division champion coaching jobs with Calgary or BC there is one team that sticks out to me: the 2011 Lions.

I know many of you will look further back in Wally’s BC tenure, and even more will focus on the greatness of the Flutie and Garcia Stampeders, but if you focus on the facts of the 2011 Lions instead of the name notoriety associated with some other Buono led teams, I believe you’ll see 2011 was a special year worthy of being classified as his best coaching job.

In 2011 the Lions started the season at Empire Field while BC Place was under construction. The Lions became the first team in league history to start a season 0-5 and finish in first place. They also became the first team to lose their first five regular season games and win the Grey Cup.

The Lions were also the first team to win a Grey Cup Championship in their home stadium since the 1994 BC Lions, and were only the fourth team to win at home since the inception of the Canadian Football League in 1958. Because of their remarkable season, the Lions were named the Canadian Press Team of the Year for 2011, only the second CFL team to win the award since 1983.

I was there in Vancouver for the Grey Cup in 2011 competing in the Vanier Cup for McMaster. We watched BC practice two days before the big game and I remember being amazed by the control Wally had of every moment. To me his 2011 coaching job symbolized the best of his career because it encapsulated what has made Wally so great for so long.

His ability to make others believe in themselves and put talent in the best position possible to be successful. That’s coaching. That’s Wally Buono. That’s the 2011 BC Lions.


While both sides are pretty convincing, someone’s got to take it. Whose argument convinced you the most?

You can vote for this week’s winner both on and Twitter. Meanwhile, continue the conversation by tweeting @Fan960Steinberg and @TSN_Marsh.

The winner will be revealed in the following week’s Berg vs. Ferg.

Fan Poll
Which season was more defining for Wally Buono?
1992 Stampeders
2011 Lions