On January 24th Wally Buono held a news conference to announce that he was trading star received and B.C. Lions franchise cornerstone Geroy Simon.
Okay, so we’re talking football in February, but stick with me here.
Simon is a lock for the CFL Hall of Fame, and probably a few other local Halls of Fame in B.C. and his home state of Pennsylvania. His game has diminished partially due to age and injury, but there is no denying that he is still an effective player and a terrific influence to have on the roster of any CFL team. On top of that, Simon had spent eleven years with the Lions, winning two Grey Cup championships and the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award. It was Simon’s image that adorned the B.C. Lions Canada Post stamp for the Grey Cup’s 100th birthday.
Simon has earned the respect and loyalty of the B.C. Lions franchise, not to mention the entire CFL.
Making the Tough Call
Wally Buono was right to trade him and in a recent article from Postmedia journalist Cam Cole, he explains how difficult it was, as well as how necessary it is that a team be able to make the hard decisions on a player, any player, at the right time.
I don’t need to tell Calgary sports fans about Wally Buono, so I’ll skip to the relevant parts.
Buono had to make “certain hard decisions” in order to ensure that the club could add Solomon Elimimian and retain Travis Lulay, as well as OT Jovan Olafioye and SB Shawn Gore.
That decision was choosing those players over Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce III – two future Hall of Famers who were getting older and in line for a pay increase due more to what they have done than what they are likely to still do.
That this is Wally Buono making these calls on veteran stars is almost like the Universe giving Calgary a strong elbow to the ribs and wink.
Read this quote from Buono and draw your own comparisons: “This is a point in time when it is simply business…But if you’re not willing to make the tough choice, eventually someone will make the tough choice about you. Firing you is a tough choice. The easy thing would have been not to make the hard choice on Geroy…”
Buono goes on to describe the difference-makers on a team, and granted we are comparing apples and oranges between football and hockey teams, but the principles of building a winning team without letting misty-eyed sentimentality get in the way still apply.
“So, once you find out who your difference-makers are, you’ve got to take care of them. And then once they become less and less of a differencemaker [sic], you’ve got to start finding the next guys. It’s a cycle right?”
Notice that Buono doesn’t say anything about trading Simon for some immense package intended to rebuild the team, or get hung up on getting "fair value" for Simon. No, it was a move made by a team that needed to refocus and reassess. A player was allowed to move to another team where he could get what he had requested and the Lions will just keep on their path. Buono admits in the article that the morning after having made the decision to trade Simon was one of the hardest in his life, but he made the call and knew it was the right one, so on he went to deliver a press conference he probably wished he’d never have to.
That is intellectual honesty and integrity.
Decision Time Coming
Jay Feaster and the Flames are rapidly approaching decision day on Jarome Iginla.
I’ve said before that I would like to see Iginla re-sign in Calgary and spend his entire career a Flame. That doesn’t happen much anymore and Iginla could be the last major player to do so for a very long time. He can’t bring the fans a Stanley Cup, but if he could do this, well…
However, what would be best for the franchise, not the egos or emotions of supposed leaders and others involved, is for Iginla to okay some trade options and let the Flames move on. Heck, even put it out there that he demanded a trade and let him leave a villain. It’s what Pocklington and Sather did with the Gretzky trade because the team can’t hide anywhere and couldn’t afford the fan outrage at the time.
Fans will figure out the truth of the matter in time and all will eventually be forgiven, but the immediate concerns of the club call for some clear-eyed, objective decisions to be made. You can argue all you want in the comments about how much is or is not owed by the player to the fans or vice-versa, and I’m not going to debate what Iginla is worth on the trade market right now. That is a guessing game for everyone including most NHL GMs.
What is true in the end is that Iginla and the Flames aren’t going to win anything this season, and that the good franchises know that no one, absolutely no one, is bigger than the organization.
That kind of objectivity and courage, coupled with honesty and sincere compassion, is what has made Wally Buono one of the best GMs in the history of the CFL. There are lessons to be learned from his management style.