It was between the 1979 and 1980 seasons, the Argonauts were hunting for a head coach and the club president was skimming an application from a young Canadian who used to play in Montreal.
“Look at this,” the prez said, shaking his head while handing a rookie reporter across his desk the application.
“What makes this guy think he’s qualified?”
And so Lew Hayman — who was ending his legendary CFL career as the Argos’ boss — tossed aside the application while the reporter — me — thought nothing of it. And, a few days later, Hayman hired former NFL star Willie Wood to coach his team.
Oh, and I almost forgot. The young Canadian rejected by Hayman? His name was Wally Buono.
As I recall, Wood didn’t win a game in Toronto and didn’t last the year. Buono has done a bit better. He ranks behind only Don Matthews (230) on the list of career wins by a CFL head coach. Buono picked up his 196th victory when his B.C. Lions squeezed past Edmonton last Friday night.
Eventually, Wally could surpass Matthews. I say this because Matthews is 68; Buono is 12 years younger.
In his 17th season as a CFL head coach, Buono has the league’s best team.
The Lions have won five consecutive games and sit atop the Western Division. In a league that is suffering from a deadly dearth of scoring, the Lions have amassed 310 points — 57 more than any opponent. Yes, the Lions were lucky that rookie Jason Johnson inexplicably botched a hold on a last-play field-goal try that surely would have given the Eskimos a triumph in B.C. on Friday night, but we’re all familiar with the cliché — you must be good to be lucky, or lucky to be good, or whatever.
Buono is both. He’s survived heart surgery and he’s rebuilt the Lions into the only CFL team really worth watching. He turns rags into riches. The Lions’ offence is superb even when backup Buck Pierce is filling in for Dave Dickenson at quarterback. Buono lost middle linebacker Barrin Simpson — the CFL’s top defensive player — as a free agent last winter, but the Lions are better with some kid named Javy Glatt at the position than they ever were with Simpson.
Last year, the Lions slumped at season’s end and failed to get to the Grey Cup game. I don’t see Buono allowing that to recur. He’s the coach of the year in 2006 and, to me, the best in CFL history.
I can see Lew Hayman spinning in his grave.
Marty York’s column appears Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen for Marty on The ROCK 94.9 FM, Monday and Friday at 8:40 a.m.