Three lessons the Pegulas should learn from “The Doug Whaley Experience:”
1. Stop moving the goal posts for the personnel department
This is not an excuse for the Whaley regime. He needed to be removed. But the scouting department is in a near impossible situation when the player profiles they seek keep changing. This happens when you have seven head coaching regimes in 17 years, as the Bills have had.
Sean McDermott’s cast now is the third head coaching regime in the last five years. (We’re not counting interims.) Just look at the defensive scheme changes since Chan Gailey took over in 2010. The defense has gone from the 3-4 (George Edwards) to the 4-3 (Dave Wannstedt) to the 3-4 (Mike Pettine) to the 4-3 (Jim Schwartz) to the 3-4 (Dennis Thurman) to the 4-3 (Leslie Frazier).
With each change, players get swept out the door. And that’s just on defense. This is one reason you wind up drafting Torell Troup over Rob Gronkowski. (The new regime was desperate for the key piece to the latest new scheme.) Granted, some good players transcend scheme, and the Bills haven’t had enough of those, as Tim Graham has documented. But Scheme Schizophrenia is a recipe for disaster.
How do you avoid it? The first key is for the head coach to pick the right coordinators, which means get it right on “the other side of the ball.” Bills head coaches have had big problems with that. Presumably, McDermott will return the defense to respectability. His offensive coordinator, Rick Dennison, needs to be the right choice. And ownership can’t get impatient and force Dennison out if the offensive results aren’t wonderful after two years. Ralph Wilson was guilty of that kind of impatience at times in his long career.
2. Have a clear-cut power structure
Terry Pegula was right to say Sunday he likes “collaborative organizations,” and it’s critical that the coaching and personnel sides have “organizational trust,” as Marv Levy likes to say. The Bills have had the polar opposite - organizational mistrust - the past four years.
Right off the start, Doug Marrone never was fully on board with Whaley’s EJ Manuel pick. Ultimately, someone must have clear-cut, final-say authority and have enough clout to get everyone to fall in line behind it. Furthermore, that final-say person should be a dominant personality who relentlessly engages conflict head-on and persistently sells and articulates his vision within the building.
Whaley did not fit that profile. He didn’t have the personality to get all that done. It’s clear, as Vic Carucci wrote this week, that McDermott is the final-say guy. He looks like he fits the right personality profile. This is unorthodox because rarely does a coach get final-say authority before he wins his first NFL game. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work.
That’s the route the Pegulas are going, and they need to be clear and consistent within the organization about it. That means they have McDermott’s back, even if he stands 14-18 after two seasons.
3. Don’t let frustration dictate the QB decision
Pegula is right to disown the responsibility for “The Drought” before 2015, his first full season as owner. You can’t let past failures prompt a bad QB decision.
The Bills were desperate for a QB in the 2013 draft. It was a bad QB draft class. Whaley and Buddy Nix together picked Manuel, and he was the best of the lot. But there were loads of scouts who doubted Manuel’s pocket presence in college. It wasn’t the right pick.
If there was a concrete formula for finding a franchise quarterback, all the smart people in the NFL would have found it by now. We don’t pretend to have the answer. Given the Bills’ recent history, we respect the fact McDermott traded back from the 10th pick because he didn’t believe in this year’s QB crop. And Cleveland’s willingness to hold off on the iffy QB classes the past two years is admirable.
It seems likely there will be pressure on McDermott & Co. to find their new QB in next year’s draft. But one thing McDermott’s mentor, Andy Reid, has shown throughout his career, is you can win a lot of games with a less than elite QB if you have a great organization around him. You can bet Reid will make No. 10 pick Patrick Mahomes serviceable because the Chiefs are so solid across the board.
Tyrod Taylor may not be the final answer, but Reid would have gotten to the playoffs at least once in the past two years with Taylor at QB.