PHOENIX – Terry Pegula said he had an inkling the Buffalo Bills’ offseason was going to go well – or, at least, as well as it can go until the fruits of the labor show up on the field in the fall – when he and the team’s hierarchy were huddling to devise their game plan.
“What I quickly realized was that these guys like each other and they get along with each other,” Pegula said Tuesday while here for the National Football League owners meeting that concludes Wednesday. “It was a lot of fun, actually.”
By “these guys,” the Bills’ owner was referring to new head coach Rex Ryan, General Manager Doug Whaley, team President Russ Brandon, Vice President of Football Operations Jim Overdorf, and other members of the coaching staff.
From those gatherings, the Bills set a course that, at first, focused on retaining standout edge rusher Jerry Hughes, acquiring tight end Charles Clay, picking up fullback Jerome Felton, and adding veteran quarterback Matt Cassel.
But it really became fun when, out of the blue, the Bills were able to land standout running back LeSean McCoy in a blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. “That,” Pegula said, “wasn’t planned, but it happened.”
Pegula then noted that the camaraderie of the coaching staff is so strong, the coaches have meetings “sitting in the hot tub together” at the Bills’ training facility.
“It’s not a pretty sight,” Pegula said with a laugh. “But, as” offensive coordinator “Greg Roman pointed out, the players are going to feel” the bond that the coaches have with each other and the organization as a whole.
Pegula has done plenty of bonding of his own with the new acquisitions.
“I went out to dinner with LeSean McCoy and his mom and dad, brother,” he said. “I took my two kids with me; my wife, Kim, was out of town. When the news of the trade first broke, he was obviously shocked and the rumors were floating around he wasn’t happy” with the trade to Buffalo. “Well, when I shook his hand, he was commenting on the fact that he was shocked that he was traded. I said, ‘You were shocked? We were more shocked than you were. We obviously could use some help in our backfield’ and getting McCoy ‘was like filling up the Grand Canyon.’ ”
Pegula said he also told McCoy that when the trade was completed, he and other members of the Bills’ hierarchy were dancing around on the Pegulas’ boat in Boca Raton, Fla., where some of the team’s planning meetings for the offseason were held.
Pegula formed an instant connection with another of the Bills’ key acquisitions, Percy Harvin, the wide receiver/return specialist with a troubled past. The Bills’ owner long had tremendous respect for Harvin’s talent. He recalled when the Bills faced the Jets, Harvin’s previous employer, last season, he said, “Don’t get the ball to this guy! Don’t let him touch it, please!”
“I told Percy, ‘This isn’t about football; this is about you as a person. And I’m here, Rex is here, Greg Roman, all of us … we’re here to help you beyond football,’ ” Pegula said.
Pegula said Harvin became teary-eyed during their conversation, and the owner, who is known to wear his emotions on his sleeve, also became emotional. “I talked with him for quite a while,” Pegula said. “He’s a good talent and he’s part of the family now. He’s definitely a good person. He needs people to support him; we all do. And we’re going to support him.”
The owner shared a story about Harvin flying on Pegula’s private jet and discussing dogs and sports-related books pertaining to mental strength with one of Pegula’s daughters.
Pegula said that he reached an additional point of comfort with the Bills’ signing of another player with a troubled history, guard Richie Incognito. Incognito was suspended for his involvement in a bullying scandal with the Miami Dolphins in 2013, and hasn’t played since.
The Bills were the only team willing to sign him.
“You meet him and you talk to him,” Pegula said. “You see that he’s repentant and actually a very smart, young man. We did a lot of homework before we had the meeting with him, and actually it wasn’t a difficult decision. He’s ready to make amends for any issues he had.”
Pegula touched on other topics:
• On juggling the ownership of the Bills and the Sabres – “It’s obviously more work, plus I have my other (energy) business. That’s why, between Kim and I, all of this stuff we’ve done in the last few years with these sports teams, all a part of it was always that she was going to be heavily involved. And she’s even become more involved than I anticipated and she’s doing a great job. It allows me to concentrate on my core business and also do what I do with the sports teams.”
• On Kim Pegula’s role – “If you divide it between the actual sports side and the business side, she’s working closely with (Sabres President) Ted Black and Russ Brandon on the business side, and I haven’t been as involved on that side of it. That’s what she likes to do; she’s good at it. So I actually stay over on the sports side, the actual makeup of the teams and working with how we’re going to build the team, the coaching staff. I talk to Doug every day.”
• On John Koelmel leaving as HarborCenter president – “John has moved on. He did a great job at getting the HarborCenter thing going.”
• On the Bills’ future stadium situation: “Nothing new to report.”