Sports

Buono future uncertain as Lions set to host Argonauts in regular-season finale

B.C. Lions' head coach Wally Buono watches from the sideline during the first half of a CFL football game against the Calgary Stampeders in Vancouver, B.C., on June 25, 2016. Uncertainty abounds as the B.C. Lions are set to close out their disappointing season with Saturday's regular-season finale against the Toronto Argonauts. General manager and head coach Wally Buono admits he doesn't know if he'll be back on the sidelines next year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. Lions' head coach Wally Buono watches from the sideline during the first half of a CFL football game against the Calgary Stampeders in Vancouver, B.C., on June 25, 2016. Uncertainty abounds as the B.C. Lions are set to close out their disappointing season with Saturday's regular-season finale against the Toronto Argonauts. General manager and head coach Wally Buono admits he doesn't know if he'll be back on the sidelines next year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — Wally Buono was awarded the Grey Cup the last time he retired as coach of the B.C. Lions six years ago. The winningest coach in CFL history won't be faced with a similar scenario Saturday.

B.C. closes a disappointing season by playing host to the Toronto Argonauts, who will secure top spot in the East Division and a Nov. 19 home playoff date with a victory.

Buono, meanwhile, faces a far less glamorous end, admitting he doesn't know if he's retiring after a 15-year run with the Lions but is nonetheless content if he's about to coach his last game.

The uncertainty over the future of the Lions coach/GM has overshadowed the regular-season finale. Buono said he is purposely waiting until the season is over before discussing his future with owner David Braley, who has previously stated he won't entertain sale discussions while potential concussion litigation is pending against the club.

Though the Lions have unveiled 2018 season ticket renewal plans, suggesting the club will remain in control of the Hamilton-based owner, the team's head of football operations has nonetheless made it clear a vision for the club needs to be outlined quickly.

"I want to hear what the owner wants to do," said Buono. "We're in a situation that we need to clean up. Not that it's not fixable. I need to burn the ship and get to a point where there's no more season and I don't have a contract to coach. Then we discuss the next option."

It's a far cry from the scenario for Buono at the end of the 2011 season when the Lions won the Grey Cup at home. Days after the streamers and confetti fell to the turf at B.C. Place Stadium, he relinquished coaching duties to remain as general manager.

He returned to the sidelines last season after Jeff Tedford resigned as head coach in December 2015.

Not knowing if he will walk away has put the 67-year-old grandfather in a reflective mood. Buono stood alone in the middle of the field several hours before B.C.'s final road game last week in Winnipeg and later admitted he was recalling highlights from his long career.

Buono has a 273-155-3 coaching record with the Lions and Calgary Stampeders.

"Has anybody had a more blessed life than me in the CFL? I've been to two great places, I work for a great owner," he said. "We live in a great place. We've had success. OK, I've had a couple of losing seasons, pity me for that. It's coming to an end, whether it's today or tomorrow, and I know that."

However, one of the players who has been around Buono the longest suggests he'll be back.

"I'm almost sure that's what he's going to do," said lineman Ricky Foley, a 2006 Lions draft pick who rejoined the club this season. "Not making the playoffs for the first time after 20 years? I could be wrong but I don't see it. I can't see a guy like him leaving after a season like this."

The career path is more certain for one of Buono's starters. Seven-year veteran Marco Iannuzzi will play his final game Saturday, after announcing his retirement plans earlier this season.

"I'm not going to sit here and compare what I'm doing to what he's doing. But regardless of whether he decides to come back or float off to the sunset people are not going to remember this unfortunately poor season. They're going to remember his 40 seasons of coaching and the championships," Iannuzzi said.

"Whether he adds one more year to it or not will not affect his legacy."

Buono said he's ready to enjoy retirement but suggested there are times when he is conflicted, knowing he is the architect of the team's problems.

"Here's where I'm at: I'm OK with either scenario." Buono said. "I'm not regretting what I've done and won't regret what I'll do."

Notes: A B.C. win would mean the idle Ottawa Redblacks take top spot in the East Division.

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