Buffalo Bills fans are bullish on Rex Ryan as their team’s new head coach, even if they don’t have much hope of seeing the playoffs next season.
That’s according to the recent findings of a poll from Siena College commissioned by The Buffalo News and WGRZ-TV.
Those surveyed do feel the team is headed in the right direction under owners Terry and Kim Pegula, with 89 percent saying they are either very (39 percent) or somewhat (50 percent) confident the team will be successful in the coming years.
Ryan received an overwhelming majority of support, with 70 percent of respondents saying the Bills made a good decision to hire the brash former coach of the New York Jets. Just 9 percent of respondents thought it was a bad decision.
“He seems like a good coach that the players can relate to,” said David Mickell, 47, of Buffalo.
Ryan’s tough talk – he said in his introductory news conference he expects the Bills to be the “bullies” who push other teams around – has a way of winning over fans and players.
“We got somebody the rest of the league isn’t laughing about,” said 42-year-old Fred Manke of Buffalo. “He isn’t afraid to share his opinion.”
Ryan’s hiring got a 74 percent approval rating among males who were polled, with 65 percent of females also supporting the decision. Among those under 55, 76 percent thought Ryan’s hiring was a good decision, while 63 percent of those 55 and older were in favor of it.
“He wasn’t my first choice, but I definitely think he’s more of a motivator than Doug Marrone was,” said Sandra Smith, a 54-year-old from East Amherst who said she would have liked the job to go to former Bills quarterback Frank Reich.
Smith was concerned with the way Ryan’s tenure with the Jets ended. After taking New York to back-to-back AFC championship games in his first two seasons, 2009-10, the Jets finished no better than .500 the last four years, including a woeful 4-12 mark in 2014.
One trait Ryan possesses that was universally praised among those polled and later interviewed by The News was the simple fact he’s not the guy he’s replacing.
Marrone’s decision to bail on his team on New Year’s Eve – with a guaranteed $4 million going-away present – didn’t win him any admirers in Western New York.
“It’s pretty clear his heart wasn’t here,” Smith said. “I just thought the way he left was so tacky.”
In an interesting twist, Marrone interviewed for the Jets’ head coaching job – as well as three others – before ultimately accepting a position as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive line coach.
“He made a poor decision,” said 61-year-old John Rebl of Hamburg. “Maybe he was going after Rex’s old job. I’m happy with Rex. He’s a big name. … He’s well known and well respected.”
Little confidence in playoffs
While Ryan’s hire has been a home run with fans, only 49 percent of those polled think the team will make the playoffs next season, with 44 percent responding it will miss the postseason.
The lack of faith among fans can be traced directly to the Bills’ ongoing concerns at quarterback. EJ Manuel, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2013, is penciled into the starting lineup, but General Manager Doug Whaley and Ryan haven’t been shy about saying they’re on the hunt for more options at the all-important position.
“Better,” is how Rebl said he felt about the team’s chances at the postseason, before adding “I wouldn’t put money on it, though.”
“They’ve got a big issue at quarterback,” he said. “It’s a major problem.”
Manuel has started just 14 games over two years, including four last season before being benched in favor of veteran Kyle Orton, who has since retired.
“Hopefully, Manuel learned from Orton,” Mickell said. “It’s up to him and the offensive line.”
Even though the Bills lost defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, those interviewed expressed little concern about that side of the ball. Ryan has an extensive defensive background, and will be heavily involved with that unit.
“Their defense is fantastic,” Smith said. “The offense – not so much.”
Unfortunately for the Bills, finding a franchise quarterback is one of the toughest things to do in the NFL. The most common method of attempting to do so – through the first round of the draft – isn’t an option for the team, since that selection was traded to Cleveland at the draft last year so the Bills could move up to take wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Asking a rookie quarterback to come in and lead a team to the playoffs is a lot, so the draft may not be the best option, anyway. That leaves Whaley to explore the free agent and trade markets.
“We should have made it this year,” said Fred Manke, 42, of Buffalo. “I think they have a really good chance next year – if EJ or some other quarterback can do it.”
Opinions on the Bills’ playoff chances were split almost evenly by gender, with 51 percent of males saying the team will make the postseason in 2015, and 47 percent of females agreeing. Of the 44 percent who think the team will miss the playoffs, 43 percent were males and 45 percent females.
Faith in the Pegulas
While the outlook for 2015 isn’t exactly bright, fans do see better days ahead.
“With Mr. Wilson being as ill as he was, he couldn’t really give it 100 percent,” Smith said, referring to the team’s late founding owner, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. “There was never a question his family would give the team up.
“Now, with the Pegulas, they want to be successful. They’re all in. That’s got to be motivating for the players.”
Manke admitted that having the team’s long-term future in Western New York secured influenced his faith in the leadership of the Pegulas.
“I just have a better feeling because of the people running it, knowing that they’re not looking to go anywhere,” he said.
Mickell, meanwhile, was more succinct in his reasoning for backing the Pegulas.
“They’ve got enough money to buy whatever they need,” he said.
The poll of 505 registered voters in Erie County was conducted last Tuesday and Wednesday.
The poll has a margin for error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.