A day later, as dust settled around One Bills Drive and the team began sifting through the rubble, the question remained unanswered. Doug Whaley is the general manager, but what does he do for a living? It appears that he’s like the rest of us who aren’t privy to such information.
Let's agree through our collective Bills fatigue that this is a dysfunctional franchise, perhaps the most dysfunctional in major professional sports. The dumpster fire engulfing the organization must be contained. Too many toxic substances remain inside the building and surrounding areas. Today, we grab a hose and turn on the water.
In order to extinguish the fire, it helps to know its origin. Whaley, Russ Brandon and Terry and Kim Pegula poured gasoline over the Bills during their last coaching search, which was made possible after Doug Marrone sensed danger and escaped with $4 million. Rex Ryan merely struck the match.
This isn’t to solely blame Ryan for their current problems. The results he had in Buffalo should have been expected given his record with the Jets. He was one game under .500 over 31 games with the Bills. He was four games under .500 over six seasons with the Jets. Rex Ryan did what Rex Ryan does.
Now that he’s gone, and rightfully so, the Bills can move forward assuming they don’t compound that mistake with another. In order to have a strong house, they need sound structure. As it stands now, it appears they’re bracing under a house of cards that looks all too familiar.
Rewind the clocks a few years, and you’ll see the Bills on the same path the Sabres took before spiraling into the abyss. The Pegulas purchased the team and backed up a Brinks truck to the rear of the building, dumping more money into the organization than it had under any previous ownership.
The infusion of cash led to irresponsible spending. Mistakes led to wasted money, starting with refurbished locker rooms and including numerous contract buyouts costing tens of millions of dollars. They had faith in a failed general manager, Darcy Regier, who was retained to clean up the very mess he created.
Buffalo fans who were subjected to the Sabres’ deranged rebuilding plan have endured a slow, tedious and uncertain reconstruction process that began three years before Jack Eichel arrived and could continue for several more years. The Sabres are in last place in the Atlantic Division with the midpoint of the regular season fast approaching.
It starts at the top.
Ownership can avoid a repeat by hiring a new general manager for the Bills. But it also means creating a proper chain of command and defining duties. It calls for owners writing checks, the president overseeing business operations only, football executives making football decisions, coaches coaching and players playing.
There’s a reason the Patriots win every year. It’s not just the quarterback. The Pats captured another division title this year while without Tom Brady for four games. They won largely because they allowed the fewest points in the NFL by a mile. They won because everyone adhered to the organizational mantra: Do Your Job.
If you don’t do your job in New England, you lose your job in New England. It’s really that simple under their head honcho, Bill Belichick. Not only are the Patriots’ almost always on the same page, they’re also on the right page. The Bills are looking for answers while reading entirely different books.
The Pegulas allowed players to have too much influence over the coaching staff when Greg Roman was fired. They contributed to the divide between Whaley and Ryan by having them each report directly to them, allowing the chain of command to veer in different directions. They failed to put professional goals before personal relationships.
Any self-respecting general manager would demand full control over football operations, starting with hiring and firing coaches. Whaley showed he was more interested in keeping his job than actually doing the job when he stepped aside and made room for Brandon when Ryan was hired.
Whaley wasn’t held accountable for the Ryan hire because he wasn’t solely responsible for hiring him. He also claimed he didn’t have a say in Ryan’s firing. He said he didn’t handle contracts. So what does he do? He assembles the roster. He has fallen short in the draft. He hit on a few free agents, which is true for every GM.
What does he do well? Well, that’s the multimillion-dollar question facing ownership in the weeks and months (years?) ahead. Evidently, he can’t be trusted with duties common among most GMs. Whaley and Terry Pegula weren’t even aligned during their lame attempt at spin control.
They clearly had their signals crossed in yet another poorly executed plan when it came to explaining Ryan’s dismissal. Pegula told the Associated Press that he and Whaley had conversations during the season about Ryan. Whaley previously claimed he didn’t discuss Ryan’s future with Pegula, had no idea Rex was in trouble and didn’t have an opinion about the decision to fire him.
In other news, a cow jumped over the moon and landed in swampland for sale in Florida.
Whaley is safe for now, but that only means today. He’s kidding himself if he believes Pegula isn’t prone to changing his mind. Regier found out the hard way. He figured he was safe, too, until he and Ron Rolston – another blast from the ugly recent past – were shown the exit 20 games into the 2013-14 season.
Brandon best be careful, too. The Pegulas have more patience and a higher pain threshold than most owners, but they do have a breaking point.
Ted Black arrived in Buffalo with Pegula and believed his future was secure after he and other Pegula cronies won a power struggle with Pat LaFontaine. By the time Pegula realized LaFontaine was a victim of sophomoric office politics and a severed chain of command, it was too late. Black and most of the cronies eventually were fired.
Much like the Sabres did, and perhaps still do, the Bills have a credibility problem that makes winning exponentially more difficult. The organization in recent years has become less attractive to top executives and coaching candidates. It draws the wrong people, the kind more likely interested in making money than winning, like the Ryans.
It points directly to ownership.
Terry and Kim Pegula have their flaws. I would imagine they don’t agree on everything. They make decisions at their own pace, sometimes a glacial pace.
The owners don’t know how to run a successful professional franchise, and how could they? Terry made his money in the natural gas and oil industry. Kim has a degree in public relations. They’re out of their element, which is hardly a crime.
The greater offense is failing to recognize as much, believing they have answers when it’s the opposite, listening to and empowering the wrong people and remaining steadfast in convictions based on false information. It’s not going to be resolved until the Pegulas fire Whaley and hire the right someone to hire everyone else.
What will that person do? He’ll redefine and clarify his job description. He’ll be a top executive with a football background who oversees football operations the way a general manager should. He’ll hire the head coach, assemble the scouting staff and manage the draft. He’ll understand repercussions for failure.
And he’ll put out fires, hopefully before the organization goes up in smoke.