SURREY, B.C. — It was the morning after and Wally Buono sat alone in his office, tired eyes glued to a TV screen, watching something one of his teams rarely ever did in the past.
This season has been about as bad as it’s ever been for Buono. For the first time in his long CFL career the B.C. Lions’ coach and general manager finds himself guiding a 1-6 football team.
The Lions’ 37-13 blow-out loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders Thursday night in Regina was B.C.’s sixth consecutive defeat. No Buono team has ever lost six games in a row. Counting back to last season, including the playoffs, the Lions are on a 2-10 run.
“Losing is never fun, whether it’s the beginning, the end or in between,” Buono said Friday, his voice showing the fatigue of a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call and flight back from Regina. “It’s never something you enjoy going through.
“It’s frustrating. It is at times difficult. This is a tough job and a tough business. At the end of the day no one feels sorry for you. You have to get things fixed and move on.”
With B.C. entering a bye week the Lions don’t play again until they host the Calgary Stampeders on Aug. 27. That gives Buono and his coaching staff two weeks to find a way to pull the team out of its nose dive.
“It’s a time to get away, get refreshed, come back and get back to doing some of the things we feel we can do a lot better,” said Buono. “For the coaches . . . we have to re-evaulate the whole process and then try and go forward.
“We still believe the best part of the season is ahead of us.”
The Lions hope to have some injured players back for the Calgary game. There will probably be some new faces when the team returns to practice Friday.
“We do have three guys coming in after the bye,” Buono said. “If we have to bring in one or two more, so be it.”
The Lions will be looking for help on both the offensive and defensive lines. Quarterback Jarious Jackson was sacked five times by the ’Riders, while the Lions managed to get to Saskatchewan’s Darian Durant only once.
Quarterback Casey Printers, out since the second game of the season with a knee injury, is expected to be ready to play.
“He is going to have plenty of time to work, plenty of time to get going,” said Buono. “Hopefully our quarterbacks, all three of them, will be healthy and prepared.”
Offensive lineman Sherko Haji-Rasouli should also be over a knee injury.
The Roughriders have pummelled the Lions twice this season, but the rest of the games have been close. Four of B.C. losses have been by a combined 16 points. Three have been by four points or less.
Mental errors and penalties have proven costly. One play Thursday left Buono shaking his head.
Already trailing, the Lions attempted a screen pass to running back Jamal Robertson. The play was perfectly executed, until offensive lineman Dean Valli inexplicably reached behind him and grabbed the pass intended for Robertson.
Instead of a big first down, the Lions were given a penalty and ended up punting deep in their own end.
“I thought I saw it all,” Buono sighed. “This year I’ve seen a lot of things I’ve never seen before in my life.”
After Calgary, the Lions travel to Montreal to play the defending Grey Cup champions on Sept. 3. It’s not out of the question B.C. could be 1-8 by Labour Day.
In 21 seasons with Calgary and B.C., Buono leads all CFL coaches with 236 victories. His worst year was 2002 in Calgary when the Stampeders were 6-12. It’s the only time Buono has missed the playoffs.
Since joining the Lions in 2003, Buono’s worst record was last year’s 8-10 mark. B.C. will have to go 7-4 in its last 11 games this year to equal that record.
“It’s not about me,” Buono said. “It’s about this football club.”
Callers to local radio sports programs have questioned if the 60-year-old Buono is past his best-before date. Lions owner David Braley has publicly stated his confidence in Buono.
For his part, Buono said he’s handling the losing streak better now than he would have in his younger days.
“I probably would have been a little bit more irrational, probably a little bit more panicked,” he said. “At the end of it, I don’t know if the outcome would have been any more different.
“You have to believe in the guys you have. You have to believe in what you are doing.”