It wasn’t obvious it would ever occur back in the daybut the career paths of Wally Buono and Randy Ambrosie have definitely have had a subsequent intersecting point or two.
The first big one came in 1987, when Ambrosie spent his final four games as an aspiring offensive lineman for the Calgary Stampeders and Buono was on the defensive coaching staff under Lary Kuharich, who wouldn’t have known at the time he ended up trading a future CFL commissioner.
The most recent point of intersection took place in what has become Buono’s home this week. Buono is preparing to make his graceful exit after 47 seasons in the game, coaching his final regular season opener Saturday for the Lions against the Montreal Alouettes (7 p.m., TSN; pre-game, 5 p.m., TSN 1040) in a final attempt to resurrect a once-shiny brand after last year’s non-playoff stumble.
Ambrosie would likely take no exception to the thought a former hoggie does much of anything gracefully, but there is no disputing his career path is trending upwardly in a direction opposite of the coach, and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for Buono and the league loved by both of them.
This week, that meant a self-imposed herculean task by the commissioner of conducting no fewer than 10 one-on-one interviews, mostly with Vancouver media outlets, in an eight-hour period before heading to Winnipeg for the league regular season opener Thursday.
No, it’s never happened before, not in the last 20 years in Vancouver and definitely never on the same day Brian Ramsay, executive director of the CFL Players Association,ironically was in town talking to his union clients with the Lions.
And yes, Ambrosie tacitly conceded, the media blitz has everything to do with the six-year decline in Lions attendance numbers that has finally reached a point where the man in charge at head office has determined something must be done.
Quite assuredly, however, Ambrosie is going to do it his own way.
“We live to serve our teams,” said Ambrosie, warming to the sales opportunity. “We’re on the doorstep of Wally Buono coaching his last opening game of the season Saturday. Frankly I think BC Place should have 55,000 people for no reason than to honour arguably the greatest coach of all time. If I didn’t try to influence one fan to be part of that game I wouldn’t be doing my job.”
Not hard to see that response coming. Conversely, Buono didn’t see Ambrosie as commissioner material back in the day either. What the coach sees in Ambrosie now is someone capable of putting into place the things needed to grow the game once he is gone.
It continued, Buono said, with the recent decision by the league to impose a cap on management expenses, magically just in time for the next round of collective bargaining with the CFLPA. Buono suggested that idea six years ago.
“Everybody knows we have to grow revenues,attendance, sponsorship. He sees the urgency to do it,” Buono said. “Giving it lip service is one thing. Doing it is another.”
“The commissioner needs the empowerment of ownership to do his job. … that hasn’t always happened. It’s hard to get nine entities to work together. It’s hard to tell someone who isn’t accountable that they are accountable.”
For years of course, that described Buono with the Lions, running the team while owner David Braley scouredthe ledger at home in Burlington, Ont. That’s different now under Ed Hervey and new president Rick LeLacheur, who Ambrosie says deserves time to repair the damage associated with the attendance decline.
Help from the league will come from media blitzes and not, Ambrosie said, a cash infusion to the league’sbiggest three markets, unlike the one the board of governors gave to the two southern Ontario franchises a few years back.
“We’re coming at it differently,” he said. “A traditional model is allocating funds and lean in; another way is to collaborate off the field, figure out who the best ticket-selling team is and why. These are the things that keep sales managers up all over the world and we have an opportunity to do that in the CFL.”
The first 11 months on the job have not been error-free, Ambrosie said, admitting his best practices doctrine was not in play when he voided the contract of Lions defensive line hopeful Euclid Cummings before his day in court on assault charges when the league knew of his legal dilemma but registered his deal anyway.
But Ambrosie said there is no harm in making a mistake if done at full speed, which seemed to trigger the reminder that the Daily Hive could not be kept waiting much longer and it was time to help someone else try and help save the Lions.
Before exiting, Ambrosie was asked if he could see greatness in Buono in ’87.
“Wouldn’t it be great if you could just look at somebody and know a person was destined for great things?” Ambrosie responded to the nonsensical hypothetical.
“What I can tell you is I’ve been watching coach Buono as a fan; he not only is one of the most remarkable coaches but a remarkable man. I’m going to watch every moment of B.C. Lions football this season for many reasons, among them it’s my last chance. I hope he has the kind of season he wants.”
With the help of the commissioner who recognized a need, there also is the hope there will be a thriving three-down football franchise in town once again. And if the two were to cross paths at work on a podium in Edmonton with a commissioner handing the Grey Cup to a legendary coach one last time, that would be fine with the Lions as well.
LIONS TALES: After going through almost the entire training camp without any injuries that might impact a potential starter, receiver Shaquille Johnson (ankle) went down hard in practice this week. Johnson tried to practice Thursday but instead sat out. He’s likely to be replaced by second-year Canadian Danny Vandervoort in the opener.