Bill Polian hates what Buffalo Bills fans have had to endure for 16 years in a row. He feels their pain, their heartache, their utter frustration.
And when any of them asks the former Bills general manager and Pro Football Hall of Fame member what their team needs to do to finally end its postseason drought – whether it’s during his weekly show on SiriusXM NFL Radio or in an airport – he won’t hesitate to offer his thoughts.
Fix the offensive line, which he calls “aging and unathletic.” Add a receiver to complement Sammy Watkins. Get a true backup to quarterback Tyrod Taylor and draft a QB of the future.
Polian, who resides in North Carolina, said by phone Wednesday he’s willing to provide far more detailed and comprehensive analysis directly to the Bills, but only on a consulting basis. He also made it clear that the Bills, with whom he began a long and illustrious NFL career, are the only team for which he would be a consultant.
“Listen, I owe this franchise virtually everything I have in the National Football League,” said Polian, who also served as GM for the Carolina Panthers and won a Super Bowl as president of the Indianapolis Colts. “A good reason why a yellow jacket’s on my shoulder is because of the Buffalo Bills. The bottom line is, I want this team to succeed.”
Last January, Bills owner Terry Pegula pursued Polian to oversee the team’s football operation, serving in the capacity of a “football czar.” At last March’s NFL owners meeting in Arizona, Pegula revealed to The Buffalo News that at one point he was having “two-hour daily” phone conversations with Polian.
“It was like talking with the pope,” Pegula joked.
Polian turned down the job, in part because he did not want it to compromise his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, to which he was selected a month later.
Now that his bronze bust is in Canton, Polian is open to doing work on behalf of the Bills, but not as a “football czar.” “That isn’t me,” Polian said, adding that he understood he would have to give up his roles with ESPN as an NFL television studio and radio game analyst.
After failing to land Polian nearly a year ago, the Bills went about the search for a head coach to replace coach Doug Marrone, who exercised an escape clause in his contract that allowed him to depart the club with $4 million, and eventually hired Rex Ryan. General Manager Doug Whaley, whose job was considered in serious jeopardy if Polian were hired, wound up leading the coaching search along with Managing Partner/President Russ Brandon.
But Pegula and Polian continued to stay in contact. According to Polian, their most recent phone conversation took place a little more than a month ago, when Polian called Pegula to offer thoughts on the Bills’ quarterback situation.
Polian believes the Bills should waste no time parting ways with current No. 2 QB EJ Manuel to finally bring closure to the mistake of making him a first-round draft pick in 2013. He’s fine with Taylor remaining the starter, but said he told Pegula to keep an open mind about the 2016 college quarterback crop and don’t “fall in love” with only one player, such as Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.
“You can win with Tyrod if the other pieces are good,” Polian said. “If there are six or seven Pro Bowlers at other positions, you can win with Tyrod. But he’s not the quarterback of the future. He’s not Jim Kelly, and, although he doesn’t have the same track record, he’s probably comparable to Frank Reich. But he’s not 6-feet-4 like Frank Reich. He’s small and he’s going to get hurt, and he did.
“Now, you have to find his backup and the quarterback of the future.”
It is unknown to what, if any, degree Pegula is interested in hiring a consultant or resuming his pursuit of a “football czar.” It also isn’t known whether he has heard advice from any other former NFL team executive.
The News has reported for months, and national media more recently, that there has been friction between Whaley and the Bills’ coaching staff. In response to the national reports that surfaced last weekend, Ryan has denied any rift between himself and the GM.
However, the clash has not been with Whaley and Ryan as much as with Whaley and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who is known not to have wanted Manuel on the roster and instead preferred keeping Matt Cassel in the No. 2 spot he occupied before his sudden trade to Dallas.
The national reports also said Whaley’s job could be in jeopardy. The News has reported that Whaley has one year left on his contract after the season, and quoted a team source as saying that no discussion about extending his deal would take place during the season.
How Whaley’s future with the team would be impacted by the hiring of a consultant or a “football czar” remains to be scene, but Polian said he would not be the least bit bashful about offering opinions on the team’s personnel – who should stay, who should go, and who should be brought in.
“There are nine players on this team that are 30 years or older,” Polian said. “That may be the most in the league. If it’s not the most, it’s right up there. That’s not a good sign.
“How many Pro Bowlers are on the team? One,” LeSean McCoy. “How many playoff teams have one Pro Bowler?”
Despite McCoy’s Pro Bowl selection, Polian questioned the Bills’ decision to rework his contract to boost his pay from $10 million to $16 million after they acquired him in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. He also made note of the fact the production of the team’s biggest free-agent acquisition, tight end Charles Clay, fell well short of their making him the fourth-highest-paid tight end in the league.
As a consultant, Polian wouldn’t limit his input to player-personnel. Among the examples of issues that need addressing are the problems Ryan had with replay challenges in the Nov. 29 loss at Kansas City.
“I was shocked when I heard that – shocked out of my shoes,” Polian said. “Everyone in the league has” a replay system “and a person assigned to it.” Also, defensive calls “not getting in on time and too many men on the field. You should never have too many men on the field because if the offense substitutes, you can substitute. You have all the time you need to make those substitutions. If the offense doesn’t substitute, you’re not worried about substituting. That’s clear-cut.”
And what of the many problems with players struggling to learn or flat-out rejecting Ryan’s defensive scheme?
His answer will no doubt be music to the ears of Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus, Preston Brown and other players who have openly questioned the defense’s fit for those who have to play it.
“You need veterans to make that defense work,” Polian said. “First of all, the players thrived in another system – in a simple, straight-forward, very easy to understand, very easy to communicate system where there was constant repetition of the same thing, over and over again, taught in a very straight-forward way. And the techniques were geared toward what the players could do, what their skill sets were, and the plans were constructed around the players and what they could do.
“Rex’s defense is just the opposite. It is not straight forward. It’s exceedingly complex. There is no carry over learning from one week to the next. There’s exceedingly complex language. There are exceedingly complex checks that have to be made at the line of scrimmage. There is a guy designated to make those checks. It was Ray Lewis in Baltimore and it was Jimmy Leonhard with the Jets, who literally could not put one foot in front of the other at the end of his career.
“I remember asking one of the Jets’ coaches during the offseason, ‘How in God’s name can you put Jimmy Leonhard on the field?’ He said, ‘No one else can translate the defense, no one else can get everybody lined up.’”