What, exactly, does Doug Whaley do as general manager of the Buffalo Bills and overseer of the team's football operation?
His highly anticipated 40-minute news conference Monday didn't shed much light on that. If anything, it raised significant questions about just how involved Whaley is in some of the more important football decisions the team makes.
Like, say, the hiring and firing of the head coach, a process he is supposed to "lead" in the search for Rex Ryan's replacement.
Whaley tried very hard to distance himself from any direct tie to Ryan's 31 regular-season games as the Bills' coach. Two of his more stunning revelations were that he "wasn't privy" to the reason ownership fired Ryan on Dec. 27 and that Ryan, on his way out the door, recommended the choice of Anthony Lynn as interim head coach.
In a continuation of Sunday's ugly season-ending loss against the New York Jets, Monday's news conference – where there was no sign of team owners Terry and Kim Pegula or team president Russ Brandon – could be classified as a mess.
On the one hand, Whaley told reporters he was on the podium in the Bills' media room to "speak for ownership and the team president," as well as "for the football operations department." On the other, he talked a lot about information he "wasn't privy" to.
Beyond Whaley's opening statement, during which he called the Bills' 7-9 finish this season "not good enough" and "it starts with me," little of what Whaley said sounded believable.
Put another way, if he truly doesn't have much of a hand in the organization's biggest decisions, then what are the Bills paying him to do?
For instance, in an awkward attempt to explain why he had allegedly had no input in Ryan's firing, Whaley said that during what would prove to be the final weekly phone conversation he and Ryan had with Terry Pegula, Ryan asked if he could speak privately with the owner.
"After that," Whaley said, "I was informed that Rex would no longer be our head coach. I wasn't privy to the conversation (between Ryan and Pegula), so I cannot get into those details."
He went to great lengths to let the record show he was mostly out of the loop for the hiring of Doug Marrone as coach in 2013 and the hiring of Ryan.
"This search will be different," Whaley said. "The first one, I was an assistant GM (to Buddy Nix), the second one we did by-committee approach (with the Pegulas and Brandon). This one will fall squarely on my shoulders with the help of (director of player personnel) Jim Monos.
"So we’re going to approach it that way and I have full confidence in myself and the plan that we have in place that we’re going to go out and get the best guy for the Buffalo Bills."
What does the plan entail? Whaley offered no answers, nor would he get into any specifics about what the Bills are looking for in their next coach or how they will finally put an end to their 17-year playoff drought.
And his responsibilities continued to be a source of confusion as he strongly implied that, depending on the candidate, he would be willing to relinquish his control of the final 53-man roster that he had with Marrone and Ryan.
"As an open search, I'm open to anything that will help us win," Whaley said.
And by open, that means Lynn, who was elevated from offensive coordinator to interim head coach for Sunday's ugly season-ending loss against the New York Jets, might not necessarily be as much of a lock to take the full-time job as has been widely reported locally and nationally. Who could blame him after what he has been through since getting the interim title? Last Wednesday, Lynn, in announcing that Tyrod Taylor wouldn't start at quarterback against the Jets, said it was a "business decision" and that he "wasn't in the room" when the Pegulas and Whaley made it.
On Monday, however, Whaley said, "We brought Anthony Lynn in and spoke to him. (Lynn) wasn’t in on every conversation we had about Tyrod that day. But the final one was consulted with Anthony Lynn."
Bottom line, Whaley called Lynn a liar.
Not surprisingly, Lynn is expected to interview for head-coaching jobs with at least two other NFL clubs, the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, with whom he played, and the Denver Broncos, with whom he played and coached.
Meanwhile, the Bills are known to have lined up or in the process of lining up interviews with Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator and former Bills quarterback Frank Reich.
The Whaley news conference took a whole bunch of twists and turns, including discussion about Taylor's future (the GM shed no light on that or much else), but it kept getting back to how removed he insisted he was in Ryan's dismissal.
A GM and primary overseer of the football operation presumably has opinions on which players to sign, re-sign, or release; on each players to draft; on the overall direction of the program.
But not in Whaley's case.
"I look at it this way," he said, "I’m the GM of the football operation. I was told by my boss that I would no longer be working with a certain person. My role is not to figure out why. My role is to take that information and go forward and put this organization in the best possible way to win football games, so for me, I did not ask."
Question: Did you have input into the decision to fire Rex?
Question: "Is it fair to say that Rex reported to ownership?"
Question: "Will it be the same with the next coach?"
Answer: "We will determine that during the interview process."
No plan. No direction. None of the elements that a GM is supposed to provide.
Instead, what Whaley offered was a franchise that has owners who don't believe it makes sense to have the head of their football operations doing what the role would seemingly entail.
"It's their organization, their franchise," he said. "They're going to have the ultimate stamp, no matter what. If it's me in charge over the coach or the coach and I at the same level, it's still ultimately their decision."