PITTSFORD – Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane were embarking on their first training camp in their respective positions Thursday, so naturally they weren't lacking for enthusiasm. At times, they beamed with excitement like freshmen who had been invited to practice with the varsity.
You couldn't help but envy their energy and optimism, qualities that had been drained from many a Bills coach and general manager and were in short supply when the two men arrived from the Carolina Panthers. Clearly, they hadn't endured the pain and suffering inflicted upon the organization for 17 years.
It's different for people around the team, which explains why I entered training camp with a healthy dose of skepticism. My antennae were up for common catch phrases that are popular at this time of year. I actually was hoping McDermott and Beane would enlighten the masses with insight or an original thought or two.
Instead, they unleashed the same rhetoric people had heard for years.
McDermott talked about "building an identity" and "focusing on the process" and "camaraderie" and wait for it … wait for it … changing "the culture." Beane hit the trifecta with "chemistry, team bonding, harmony" in the same sentence. I was "everybody is 0-0 right now" from falling off my chair.
What, am I being too negative too soon?
Pardon me if I'm reluctant to believe the Bills will be decidedly different this year under McDermott and Beane than they were in past seasons. It has absolutely nothing to do with them. They're fine people and appear more competent, more professional, than their predecessors. I'm not questioning their sincerity.
While their message may have been genuine upon leaving their lips, it became familiar noise by the time it reached my ears. The Bills have had plenty of new beginnings, but generally it has been more of the same. Anyone paying attention has heard it all numerous times while bracing for the same results.
It seemed like yesterday that I arrived at St. John Fisher College convinced Chan Gailey had changed the culture. That was five years ago. McDermott is their fourth head coach since Gailey was fired. I felt they made upgrades when they hired Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron and Doug Marrone before stumbling with Rex Ryan.
Each had distinctly different styles than the man before them, but the message was basically the same. It was all about "building chemistry" and "becoming a family" and "improving each day." While they talked about the "process," their teams were in the process of building the longest playoff drought in professional sports.
Fourteen times since their last playoff appearance, the Bills have finished between 6-10 and 9-7. In the other three seasons, they had five victories or fewer. Unfortunately, the only thing they've beaten on a consistent basis is the law of averages. So why should I believe this will be different?
In fairness, I'm not sure McDermott or Beane could have said anything Thursday that would have convinced me better days were ahead. It's not that my glass is half-empty. It's been completely empty for a decade. In 2007, the middle of the Jauron Era, somebody chugged my optimism and threw my glass against the wall. Ten years later, I'm still waiting for a refill.
McDermott and Beane are likeable people who deserve a fair chance. Maybe they'll get things right, but they don't get benefit of the doubt simply because they're not Ryan and Doug Whaley. They need to prove the Bills are in steady hands by running a respectable organization, making smart decisions and winning.
Marv Levy is widely considered the greatest coach in franchise history, but fans were skeptical about him when he arrived. He had a 31-42 record in five seasons with Kansas City. He wasn't granted instant credibility. Levy won over fans for one reason above all others: His teams won.
The same was true for Bill Polian. He worked with Levy in Kansas City, and they reunited in the CFL. He spent a season in the USFL before the league collapsed. Bills fans didn't celebrate his arrival, but they mourned his departure because he assembled the greatest teams in franchise history.
Bill Belichick isn't revered because he says all the right things, and he certainly wasn't hailed as some virtuoso in Cleveland. He had to prove himself as an elite coordinator before the Patriots hired him. Belichick became a genius because he won, thanks largely to Tom Brady.
It always comes back to winning.
Buffalo fans have become so desperate for success that they'll buy anything resembling a turnaround. McDermott and Beane have tried to upgrade the roster, but they're not going to solve every problem right away. It could be years before they turn around the Bills, assuming they ever do.
Most people are optimistic every year, but I try to be realistic. The Patriots could be better this season after winning the Super Bowl. The Dolphins should be better. The Bills play five teams that finished in the top 11 against the run last season, including two teams in their division. Added up, it looks like 5-11.
Here's a little secret: I'm pulling for McDermott and Beane to succeed ASAP. I want the Bills to make the playoffs. Their success or failure doesn't affect me in life's grand scale, but it sure would nice if they charged toward the postseason. Believe me, I would love to write a column about how they … wait for it … changed the narrative.