They sat, side by side, on a riser in the Buffalo Bills’ media room. General manager and coach, talking about what went wrong and how they intend to make it all better.
Doug Whaley and Rex Ryan presented a picture of unity and security.
However, the white elephant in the room was that Whaley is entering the final year of his contract and because of that, one of the first questions he heard during Monday’s season-ending news conference was about his future.
Whaley tried brushing it off by citing team policy that contracts aren’t discussed in the media. So he was then asked if he expected to receive a contract extension from Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula.
“The only thing I expect to do, as every day, (is) come in here and try to get better,” Whaley said. “I mean, that stuff, I’ll leave to (team managing partner/president) Russ (Brandon) and the ownership. I just know that every day I’ve come in here I’ve had positive feedback from the Pegulas.”
He proceeded to take a bow for the work that he and his player-personnel staff did on the way to the Bills’ 8-8 finish, their 16th consecutive non-playoff season.
“Look at the roster we put out there this last game,” Whaley said of Sunday’s 22-17 win over the New York Jets. “A lot of those guys that were playing and producing weren’t even on the team three or four weeks ago. So I’m excited what we bring to the table and just keep doing my job.
“The first thing I was taught in this business was keep your nose down, work hard and do whatever it takes to help the team win. Everything else takes care of itself.”
The Buffalo News reported that a team source said a contract extension for Whaley wouldn’t be discussed during the season. When, or even if, it will be addressed remains a mystery.
The closest the Bills came to attempting to remove any doubt about the futures of Whaley and Ryan was when Terry Pegula issued a statement essentially saying they were staying in place.
“For me, I did not need that,” Whaley said. “I have daily dealings with (Terry Pegula). That was something that I did not need.”
On the other hand, Ryan said he felt good about the owner’s endorsement.
“We were confident (about their job security),” Ryan said. “We think we’re going to be the long-term solution here. We want to be that. Did it feel good when he said it? Yeah, there’s no question. But we’re pretty confident that we have a group, led by Russ, our president, the Pegulas, and Doug and I. We think we form an outstanding team and we want to be.
“We have a vision for what we want this organization to be – perennial winners. That’s what we want to build here. And, obviously, it didn’t work the way we wanted it to this year, but we’re confident that we can get it done.”
That didn’t stop the questions about the possibility of other voices being involved in football decisions from being asked.
The News reported that somewhere around the middle of the season, Terry Pegula had a discussion with former Bills GM and Hall-of-Famer Bill Polian, who said he called the owner to encourage him to keep an open mind about quarterbacks in the 2016 draft and to not “fall in love” with any one player at the position, such as Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.
A national media outlet reported last month that Pegula was still open to the idea of hiring a “football czar,” a role that Polian rejected last year before the team hired Ryan. Polian has told The News that he’s still not interested in taking such a job with the Bills or any other NFL team.
“Look, he owns the team,” Whaley said of Pegula. “He can do anything he wants. Russ, Coach, myself, having the Pegulas (as owners), all they want to do is win. And if they think this decision (to seek outside opinions) will help us win a championship, it’s not about us. It’s about rings.”
Whaley acknowledged he was disappointed in the Bills’ season because it fell short of the goal of winning a championship.
“But it wasn’t a disastrous season, in our view,” he said. “There are a lot of things we can build on. There’s a lot of things we’ve got to get better, absolutely. But we’re excited to get to work this offseason and improve on those things that we need to improve on.”