The Bills continued chiseling away over the weekend, hoping to unearth a head-coaching jewel who will stick around, as Doug Whaley said last week during his disastrous news conference, for the next 10 to 15 years. It’s an ambitious goal given how coaches come and go in professional sports.
If there’s one parallel drawn between the coaching search and ownership, it’s the idea that you keep digging until you get it right. Terry Pegula didn’t become a billionaire overnight. He missed numerous times in the early days. He kept drilling, eventually struck natural gas and built a fortune.
Football isn’t fracking, of course. Pegula didn’t have millions of frustrated petroleum fans standing over him every time he cranked up his rigs. He didn’t have columnists suggesting he fire his top administrators or competitors worrying about whether his decisions would affect their bottom line.
Pegula is a patient man by nature, and he’s operating in the naturally impatient and pressurized environment of the NFL. This is an entirely different challenge.
Maybe the Bills will stumble across a coach who comes along and turns around the franchise the way Bill Belichick did for the Patriots 17 years ago. Marvin Lewis, Mike McCarthy, Sean Payton and Mike Tomlin have been with their teams for 10 years or more. John Harbaugh is headed for his 10th. Lewis is the only one who hasn’t won a Super Bowl.
The Bills haven’t had a coach who lasted four full seasons since Marv Levy retired in 1997, three years before the start of their dreaded run of futility. In 1997, Lindy Ruff began his 14-year coaching career with the Sabres.
Here’s hoping the Bills find the right man for everyone’s sake. The organization could use a coach who leaves little doubt about his credentials and brings an end to its 17-year playoff drought. Fans have been stuck in neutral while watching a team that finished between 6-10 and 9-7 for all but one of the past 15 seasons. The media could use a break from tedious storylines that come with covering mediocrity.
Success starts with hiring the right people.
Terry and Kim Pegula, Whaley and personnel chief Jim Monos (and Russ Brandon?) are trying to hire a coach who can restore credibility. It requires a sales pitch that extends beyond money and shows a franchise headed in the right direction and a commitment to winning. It’s a two-way street, a sticking point for top candidates.
Buffalo is not an attractive place for the best available coaches, and it has little to do with the weather. Many see a flawed culture that starts with inexperienced owners and includes a broken power structure with Whaley and Brandon tethered near the top. Top candidates aren’t exactly clamoring for an opportunity to work under them.
You hear Josh McDaniels’ name being tossed around in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Jacksonville, but there has been no mention of the Patriots’ offensive coordinator as a possibility with the Bills. Tom Coughlin wants to coach again, but he’s not coming to Buffalo under the current conditions.
Either coach could be a good fit for the Bills, but neither is interested. The notion that head-coaching jobs are hard to find is only true to a point. There have been a half-dozen or more vacancies in the NFL for six straight seasons. In 2009, there were 11 coaches hired. Every one of them has since been fired.
McDaniels is among several assistant coaches who can stay in their current positions until they find a situation that works for them. In his case, working under Belichick is a better option than being the head coach of the Bills. Coughlin would rather stay retired than work under their power structure.
They’re two examples of coaches who want total control over the 53-man roster. If coaches are going to lose, they want to lose on their own terms. Many don’t envision success in Buffalo because they don’t trust the people in charge. They want to position themselves for success, but many see a prescription for failure.
It was no surprise to hear conflicting stories last week about Sean McDermott’s interview with the Bills. The way it was explained to me, the Pegulas came away with a considerably higher opinion of Carolina's defensive coordinator than Whaley had. If true, it wouldn’t surprise me if Whaley poked holes in the interview in an effort to maintain control.
McDermott could be a fine head coach. Nobody knows for sure because he never has had the top job. He has sound credentials. He worked under late, great defensive coordinator Jim Johnson in Philadelphia. His defenses in Carolina were ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed for four straight seasons before slipping to 21st this year.
If the Bills wind up hiring him – again, the way it was explained to me – it would mean ownership overruled their general manager after he supposedly led the coaching search. It also would mean that ownership agreed to give McDermott the power he demanded and Whaley previously refused to relinquish. It also could bring Whaley one step closer to the door.
It would be a start, but cynics would argue it doesn’t matter who gets hired. They’re going to be suspicious of any coach because they have little faith in the people who hired him. The coach will be guilty until proven innocent. It will come down to him showing he’s capable of running a football team.
Good coaches are out there. The chore is getting them here. All the Bills can do is keep chipping away and hope they discover a diamond.