When the fortunes of the B.C. Lions during the past 13 seasons are examined, it's no wonder there's a movement to lure Wally Buono away from the Calgary Stampeders.
During his 13 seasons as head coach of the Stampeders, Buono has led Calgary to 153 regular-season victories, the most in Canadian Football League history by one coach with the same club.
Buono's excellence at delegation and making sideline decisions may be unparalleled in the CFL, give or take a few more Don Matthews victories with the six teams he has headed.
The Lions, on the other hand, have 112 wins in those 13 years, along with 120 losses and two ties, with eight head coaches on the B.C. sidelines during that period.
B.C. started with Lary Kuharich, once the head coach of the Stamps, in 1990. Jim Young came after Kuharich, albeit for one game, and was followed by Bob O'Billovich, Dave Ritchie, Joe Paopao, Adam Rita, Greg Mohns, Steve Buratto and Rita again.
Buono's 153-79-2-2 record, eight first-place finishes in the West Division, six Grey Cup appearances and three CFL championship seasons all add up to a résumé the Lions can't ignore.
The search by B.C. president Bob Ackles started and ended, apparently, at the doorstep of Buono, who this week contemplates his future, if indeed he has one in the Alberta oil capital.
The Stampeders have been reorganized by American owner Michael Feterik, who hired mysterious Fred Fateri as the club's vice-president, thus usurping the powers of Buono, the general manager and head coach.
Offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine of the Stamps was fired after the 2002 schedule when Calgary faltered on offence and missed the playoffs with a 6-12-0-2 record. Buono, we're told, wasn't consulted before Chapdelaine's dismissal.
Buono has three years remaining on his contract and that may be a stumbling block for the Lions, considering Fateri has talked of Calgary being compensated by impact players in return for Buono's services.
The name of B.C. slotback Jason Clermont has been mentioned in media reports, a player the Lions aren't likely to want to give up, considering the non-import was chosen last week as the CFL's outstanding rookie.
By coincidence, it was Buono who negotiated a trade with the Lions in 1992 after free agent Doug Flutie fled B.C. and signed with the Stampeders. The Lions needed a quarterback replacement and had to trade with Calgary, sending non-import offensive linemen Rocco Romano and Jamie Crysdale as compensation for Danny Barrett.
After a two-hour meeting last weekend between Buono and Ackles, the Lions would like Buono to follow Barrett west a decade later.
"We've agreed to talk again," Ackles said yesterday of the status of negotiations. He wouldn't comment when asked whether Buono was formally offered a contract.
Sources in Calgary indicate the front office of the Stampeders is in a state of flux as Buono ponders his position. There are player contracts to be considered, along with attendance considerations. Angry fans have telephoned or e-mailed complaints, saying they would not renew season tickets should Buono leave Calgary for the Lions.
But, after 13 years in the foothills community, Buono may decide that he's stale and needs a fresh challenge. The Lions would be that, and more.
Attendance in B.C. decreased this year to about 18,000 on average, and the team needs a facelift, a decision Ackles reached before the Grey Cup when he suddenly released Rita, long a favourite of club owner Dave Braley. The Lions had a 10-8 season, including a 9-3 record after Rita doubled as GM and coach after the replacement of Buratto as head coach.
The best the Lions could do yesterday was issue a news release saying ticket prices at B.C. Place Stadium will not increase in 2003.
Buono has plenty of bargaining power, considering the Lions have gone through eight coaches, four GMs and five owners since Buono took over in Calgary.
Ackles and Buono both want a quick decision. The Lions need to promote their team through an aggressive marketing program, while Buono wants to take his usual mid-December holiday with Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Dave Ritchie, a long-time associate from Montreal days in the 1980s.
Italian-born, Montreal-raised Buono would seem a perfect fit for the Lions. He has turned down offers before from the the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts organizations and has a daughter attending university at Trinity Western in the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver.