If you were looking for anger and rage to come out of the Bills locker room Wednesday after coach Rex Ryan was fired, you would’ve been disappointed.
Sure, players were sad to see Ryan go. They felt bad that it happened, and partially responsible.
But if the vibe in the Bills’ locker room Wednesday had to be described in one word, it would be acceptance.
“You never want to see a coach go, especially one that we all loved here in Buffalo,” linebacker Preston Brown said. “You don’t want to see that happen, but we know that we didn’t make it work.”
That view was shared almost universally by players on the both sides of the ball, from starters to reserves and veterans to newcomers.
“We had plenty of opportunities to get this thing right,” left guard Richie Incognito said. “We had plenty of opportunities to win. We didn’t play consistent football. When we play consistent football, when we play complimentary football – offense, defense, special teams – we’re a tough team to beat. The problem is we didn’t do it too often.”
Most players said they found out Ryan had been fired through the media, just like everyone else. One exception was quarterback EJ Manuel, who said offensive assistant Chris Palmer called him ahead of time to let him know he’d be starting.
Ryan sent a message to the team through interim coach Anthony Lynn at a meeting Wednesday, players said.
“He was proud of the way we fought for him, not giving up,” defensive back Corey White said. “That’s all he wanted us to know.”
“He said that to us in the locker room (after the game) and he sent us a message today,” Kevon Seymour added.
When White found out Ryan had been fired, he said his first thought was, “Damn, like, we let him down.”
“If there’s any coach you want to play for,” White said, “it’s Rex. He’s going to have your back in any circumstance. He’s not going to sell you out, he’s not going to bring your name to the media saying, 'this person’s bad.' He’s going to have your back 100 percent.”
But after Ryan’s defense flopped in consecutive playoff-less seasons, players seemed to understand why the move was made.
“We understand that the season didn’t go as we wanted it to,” linebacker Jerry Hughes said. “We know that we can play better. So we understand that we got to be better as individuals.”
The question of why Ryan’s defense didn’t perform well enough was hard to answer. Several players mentioned injuries, but communication issues continued to come up even after Ryan’s second year with the team.
“Just figuring out his scheme, what he wants from us, I don’t think we knew what to expect or what he was really wanting us to do out there on the field,” Hughes said. “So I think it just caused for a lot of miscommunication just by us as players.”
“It’s like being in a relationship,” Marcell Dareus said. “You can’t really be a good husband or a good wife if the communication isn’t what you feel like it should be. So for me to be the best man I can be for my woman, I have to know what’s going on with her. And at the same time, that’s the same thing with defense, same thing with basketball, football, offense, NASCAR drivers and their pit crew. It’s all about communication. And we just had a lot of injuries this year and a lot of things that came out of nowhere that we had to adjust to on a whim.”
“It’s a complicated defense,” Preston Brown said, “but that’s what we need to run. It’s worked for him in the past, so it could’ve worked here. We just didn’t get it right.
“We have to go out there and play better and we just didn’t do it on the defensive side. The offense scored enough points for us to win games, we just didn’t go out there and find ways to stop people when we needed to.”
A defense that couldn’t defend? That was a death sentence for a defensive coach like Ryan.
“We just didn’t handle our business on the field,” Brown said. “If you’re not winning games, nobody’s going to be here long.”