Since arriving in BC in 2003, Wally Buono has been the face of the BC Lions franchise. For a decade, the Leos were the class of the CFL and much of that turn-around can be credited to Buono. After relinquishing the club’s coaching reins in 2011, it seems only fitting that in his BC Sports Hall of Fame induction year honoured in the Builder-Coach category, Buono is once again back in the saddle as the Lions head coach and poised to only add to an incredible resume of perhaps the greatest coach and general manager in Canadian football history.
Born in Potenza, Italy, Buono’s family came to Canada in 1953 and he grew up playing minor football in Montreal. After attending Idaho State University, he spent ten seasons with the Montreal Alouettes as a linebacker and punter, winning two Grey Cups.
Buono moved into the coaching ranks next and after assistant jobs in Montreal and Calgary, he became head coach of the Stampeders in 1990. Over the next 13 seasons, Buono guided the Stamps to six Grey Cup games, winning three.
In 2003, Lions president Bob Ackles coaxed Buono west where he became the club’s general manager and head coach, the former a position he has maintained to this day. In 2011, he added the vice-president of football operations role to his portfolio. To date, Buono has steered the Lions to three Grey Cup appearances, winning in 2006 and 2011, as well as nine playoff appearances and berths in six Western Finals and one crossover Eastern Final.
He stands as the Lions’ career leader in coaching wins with 101 against only 60 losses and added five West Division titles in that time. The CFL awarded him with two Annis Stukus Trophies as the league’s coach of the year while with BC, adding to his two earlier wins with Calgary. He has developed a reputation as something of a quarterback whisperer, developing some of the best pivots in CFL history, including Doug Flutie, Dave Dickensen, and Travis Lulay.
Buono has effectively rewritten the CFL coaching record book in his time in BC. He co-holds with Don Matthews and Hugh Campbell the CFL record for most Grey Cup wins by a coach with five, the most regular season wins with 254, and the most first-place finishes with 13.
Recognition for Buono’s remarkable career has become an annual occurrence of late. In 2014, he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and was the recipient of the Jack Diamond Sports Personality of the Year Award. A year later, he was honoured with the Order of Canada. Since 2003, the Wally Buono Award, named in his honour, has recognized Canada’s top junior football player.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.