Bucky Gleason: Buying into Bills' future is tough considering bungled past - The Buffalo News

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Bucky Gleason: Buying into Bills' future is tough considering bungled past

Terry Pegula made a point a few times after firing Doug Whaley that he wasn't interested in discussing the past. You couldn't blame the guy because only a sadistic animal in the media would want to revisit all the blunders ownership has made since he and his wife purchased the Sabres.

Fine, we'll talk about the future while trying to make sense of his convoluted message regarding the Bills during a 15-minute presser Sunday morning, the second in 10 days to announce that he was dumping his GM and cleaning house. Why should anyone have confidence that ownership will get things right moving forward?

"First off, I own the team," Pegula said. "They have to believe in us as owners, just like we have to try to believe in our players when we put them on the field. We're going to try to make the best decisions we can in the future. We've made big decisions all of our lives."

Well, folks, there you go. Loud and proud Bills and Sabres fans don't really have a choice in the matter. The Pegulas own the team, so everybody else should blindly climb aboard and disregard ownership's lack of credibility when it comes to running sports franchises. Only it doesn't work that way.

Evidently, the Pegulas have failed to realize that faith in them has dwindled in recent years. I'm not sure how they were granted benefit of the doubt in the first place, but it’s all but extinguished now given the sad state of affairs. Bills and Sabres fans should be more suspicious than ever about ownership after seeing their teams become a national punchline.

This has nothing to do with the decision to whack Whaley, who should have been gone before Pegula arrived. He was fortunate to survive after staking his reputation on EJ Manuel and doubling down by giving away first- and fourth-round draft picks to trade up for Sammy Watkins in a draft rich with receivers.

Whaley had a knack for finding free agents off the street, but he overspent in other areas and failed to keep good players after mangling the salary cap. He had problems getting along with head coaches. His departure was inevitable after he was stripped of power and had problems clarifying what he did for a living.

Terry Pegula says Bills 'ran a process' that led to firing of GM Doug Whaley

The Pegulas can continue firing people, and paying them, but they're not going to instill belief unless they start hiring the right people to replace them. It starts with them. The Whaley decision is not simple addition by subtraction. They attempted to fill other positions in the past and watched them turn into disasters.

See: Ryan, Rex.

The Bills have assembled another search committee that includes the two owners and anybody else who can contribute. Feel free to send your suggestions to One Bills Drive. New coach Sean McDermott is certain to have considerable influence over his next boss after he was empowered to steer the Bills through the draft.

The next GM will need to be comfortable with McDermott, which in itself compromises his authority before he walks in the door. Any general manager would want to hire his own coach. That's how it works in the NFL. But that's not how it has worked with the Bills for the two coaches hired under current ownership.

Who might replace Whaley? Here are 10 possible candidates

Whaley didn't have full authority to hire Ryan. Rex is an all-time schmoozer who first won over the owners. Whaley announced during his bungled news conference in January that he would lead the search that led to McDermott. Pegula revealed Sunday that his former top football executive played only a small role.

Why bother hiring a GM if owners are running the show? What GM would want the job if it means dealing with meddling ownership?

Pegula talked in circles several times Sunday. One minute, he praised Whaley for doing a good job during the draft, and the next he was looking for answers for why he fired the guy 12 hours later. He talked about a "process" that led to Whaley's dismissal. Meanwhile, his message was difficult to process.

He was reminded of the massive pile of cash being spent on paying people who no longer work for his organizations. Dead money, he said. It comes with the territory. But it didn't explain why he gave Whaley and Tim Murray contract extensions and fired both less than a year later.

Watch: Terry Pegula's press conference on firing of Bills GM Doug Whaley

It's astonishing when you consider the dough Pegula is shelling out to people who are no longer employed by his organizations. For Whaley, Ryan, Murray and Dan Bylsma, we're talking some $35 million in payouts. But that's change between the couch cushions compared to the total cost.

The figure is closer to $60 million, more than the Sabres' entire payroll when he purchased the franchise, after adding up contracts for Ted Nolan, Pat LaFontaine, Greg Roman, Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff, assistant coaches, scouts and others who were dismissed by the Bills and Sabres before their contracts expired.

That's not all dead money. That's bad business. And it's a product of bad decisions that eventually trickle down to an unsuspecting fan base that is convinced the Pegulas are interested in nothing more than community service. Their past mistakes suggest they're too involved and don't have a clue how to get it right.

"You know what," Pegula said, "we need to talk about the future, not the past."

One thing never in question, however, is the undying loyalty and infinite optimism that comes from Bills Nation. For years, I've said some fans are loyal to a fault. They disregard common sense and think with their hearts, often rationalizing blunders and enabling the very problems they want corrected.

Buffalo fans have been battered for so long that they're desperate to latch onto anything that inspires hope. Many act as if one positive move equates to success before experiencing the opposite, a practice repeated numerous times while unwittingly allowing the standards to be lowered.

The Bills haven't made the playoffs for 17 straight seasons, including two full years under the Pegulas. The Sabres have missed the postseason for six straight seasons under them. It's hard to believe in people who were hired when you don't believe in people doing the hiring.

Watch: Our Team's Takeaway on the firing of Bills GM Doug Whaley

And it brings me to McDermott, who somehow was granted more power over this draft than people who actually had been head coaches in the NFL. I have no problem with the guy, none at all, but based on the reaction to his work in the first round, you would have thought he solved world hunger.

McDermott practically was anointed a saint after trading down in the first round of the draft and adding a first-round pick next year. The move was perceived like some stroke of brilliance. I'm not criticizing the Bills for hiring McDermott, but I'm also not inclined to praise them for coming across like a real organization.

Everybody likes the new kid in the class. McDermott hasn't coached a game and, therefore, hasn't made any mistakes in Buffalo. Let's pump the brakes, just a little, before the community gets carried away with him. Every decision that comes from the organization should be scrutinized.

It has been an exercise in dysfunction under their ownership. The Bills have gone from nine wins to eight to seven. They're trending toward six.

We've been led to believe the future looks bright because the Pegulas own the team. People should keep the faith. The organization is in good hands.

After all, Terry Pegula said so.

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