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As Donahoe fiddles, Bills' season burns

Sixty-seven games into Tom Donahoe's reign as president and general manager, here's how it breaks down for the Buffalo Bills:

Two head coaches, three offensive coordinators, three opening-day starting quarterbacks and a 27-40 record upgradeable to 24-27 by granting the boss one year's grace for inherited salary cap nightmares.

This incessant upheaval is either cause to hail Donahoe's determination, his apparent unwillingness to settle for mediocrity, or is an invitation to question whether there's any method to the madness that has coincided with the organization's longest playoff drought in almost 20 years.

No doubt Donahoe likes to roll the dice. He reached outside the acknowledged candidate pool in making Gregg Williams his first head coach, and misfired. He took a flier on damaged goods in Willis McGahee, a bull's-eye to this point. Paying a hefty premium for the draft rights to J.P. Losman was a gamble exceeded in its boldness only by waiving Drew Bledsoe and promoting Losman from the rank of tenderfoot.

But should Donahoe be saluted for defying convention, or has he merely become the master of fan-pandering churn? Replace a coach, replace a quarterback, and the masses are quick to relent and embrace a sense of renewed hope. The Bills have dispensed such sedatives in four of Donahoe's five seasons, heaping on the optimism with a show of perpetual transition that, coincidentally or otherwise, serves to shield the reputation of the man in charge. There exists a perception that emphatic change means the team is moving forward, when in reality what we have here is the wheels on the bus going round and round.

Donahoe offered Bledsoe as his public sacrifice after missing the playoffs last season, making a convenient, ticket-selling decision that came replete with a safety net. Because if The Kid struggled, what else could be expected of a first-year starter, especially one whose education was hindered by injury? And if The Kid somehow showed maturity beyond his years, kept the ball moving, behold the line to shine the GM's shoes.

I wrote it when they made the decision and I'll write it again: None of this season's offensive shortcomings are on Losman's head. This is all on the organization that ran off the vet in hand for the veritable rook in the bush after closing last season by winning eight of 10. Is this an NFL franchise or a set of Tinkertoys?

I fully understand the pervasive feeling throughout town that the Bills never would have won a Super Bowl with Bledsoe at the helm. It might even be accurate. But it's also an issue so far removed from reality that it's hardly worth debate. Of more immediate and substantial concern is whether Donahoe can someday get the Bills into the playoffs, a first step yet untaken, need anyone be reminded. It's five empty seasons and counting for Donahoe, dating to his final year with a Steelers franchise that sided with Bill Cowher's assertion the coach needed full control of the roster.

The shell game that's marked Donahoe's tenure is fast growing old. First Rob Johnson and Mike Sheppard were the problem, then Williams and Kevin Gilbride, followed by Bledsoe at a time when the team had finally shown firm signs of progress. I hesitate to mention what he's doing in Dallas, because who knows if it'll last, but it's looking like he was banished with productivity in reserve, that what failed him here was offensive design.

But there's no going back now, nothing gained by returning Losman to the bench to complete his undergraduate degree. And if it takes him two full seasons to get his bearings, which might well be the case, I think I know what that means.

See you later, Tom Clements.


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