With the vultures circling Monday, Rex Ryan maintained that he can't let the swirling speculation about his job status serve as a distraction.
"I really don't know what to feel," Ryan said when asked if it felt like he was on the proverbial hot seat. "I’ve been in this game a long time. I know one thing — to do the very best job that I can do, I have to focus on what’s right in front of me, and that’s the Cleveland Browns. I promise you that’s exactly what I’m going to do. So I’m not going to think one minute about something that may or may not happen. I know one thing: We’re playing the Cleveland Browns on Sunday and we have to be ready and obviously have to play better than we did this past week."
Ryan's job status is being called into question after a 27-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at New Era Field dropped the Bills to 6-7 on the season and basically ended the team's postseason hopes. One league source told The Buffalo News that the coach's firing was "inevitable."
Ryan said it was an "assumption" to think that there are people inside the Bills' organization who are politicking for his removal.
"Whether that’s true or not, you know, I don’t know," he said. "I think as a professional, you know, you have to be able to block it out. Even though it involves me, those rumors are about me, I have to block that out and move forward, and that’s what I’ll do."
Reports surfaced about an hour before Sunday's game that Ryan's time with the Bills was in jeopardy. The coach maintained Monday that he was unaware of that, and that it didn't distract him against the Steelers.
"I’m not signing up for this mess, either," he said. "In sports and all that, you’ve got a lot of people with a lot of opinions and so I get all that. ... That wasn’t any distraction to me. I wasn’t aware of it. Moving forward, it can’t be a distraction to our team or anybody else. We’ve just got to do our job, find ways to win, and that’s where the focus is."
Of course, that's easier said than done. Players and coaches aren't robots, after all. They know what's being said and written about their coach, even if they try to block it out.
"We don’t really really care about what’s going on outside," inside linebacker Preston Brown said. "That’s our coach. We love our coach. We’re going to go out and give everything we have for him. Each and every game, we have to try and keep getting better, go out and perform for him, because we know what the situation is. If we all want to be in this league, we’ve got to go out there and keep playing."
Brown said he didn't necessarily agree that the Bills came out flat in a must-win game, but rather the Steelers "just outplayed us in each and every aspect. They went out there and played better than us that day."
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been through two similar situations, right before both Chan Gailey and Doug Marrone, left the organization, with one being fired and the other quitting.
"We can only control what we can control. I really don’t worry about that stuff," Gilmore said. I just try to go out and do my job and do the best I can. When you don’t win, obviously stuff is said.
It’s part of what we signed up for. When you don’t win, people are bound to do something about it. Just try to block it out and do whatever you can to show this team what you’re about or show this team what you can do."
The Bills have home games against Cleveland and Miami remaining on the schedule before they close out the season with a trip to New York to face the Jets.
"That's not my say," receiver Sammy Watkins said when asked if Ryan should remain the team's coach. "There’s a lot of evaluation going on. He’s a great coach, a players’ coach, so for me, if he’s here I would love it. If he’s not, then we gotta move on
"This is a business. At the end of the day, I’m going to handle by business. I’m going to do what I need to do. Everybody’s got to do what they got to do."
Ryan said he has weekly conversations with owners Terry and Kim Pegula, and will also talk with General Manager Doug Whaley on a sometimes-daily basis.
At no time, the coach maintained, has that conversation drifted toward his long-term future.
" I haven’t thought one second about it and have no reason to look beyond what’s right in front of me which is Cleveland on Sunday," he sai.d "So, that’s where it is and that’s exactly how I’m going to focus. We have to do a great job. I have to do a great job in getting this team ready for Cleveland.
"I have to keep all that at a distance and move forward. The only time I’m going to focus on it or get anything will be around you guys. I understand it. Guys have a job to do and you’re going to ask me questions that are out there in the public, so I understand that. But, you know, understanding me a little bit will let you know that that’s so far gone. It’s not going to help me get this team ready for Cleveland. So, that’s the way I’m going to look at it."
The Bills' playoff chances, according to the The New York Times, sat at 1 percent Monday. So while fans might have the Jim Carrey scene from "Dumb and Dumber" running through their head – "So you're telling me there's a chance?" – Ryan is using that for motivation.
"We are not out of it. We may have a 1-percent chance or less than that, I don’t know – but we are still going for it," he said. "I don’t think this game can get here fast enough. I think any time you lost two games in a row, that's how you feel. You want to get the games quick, and get your team prepared and look forward to the opportunity on Sunday."
Even if it may have looked like it in the first half Sunday, Ryan said he's not worried about his team's effort level against the winless Browns.
"We are going to fight all the way and that is who this team is," he said. "We might not be the best team in the National Football League, but we're going to compete like we are. ... All of us are disappointed with where we stand right now, one thing I know about this team, we're going to get effort, we're going to get commitment. I don’t think there's any doubt about that and that's the character of the men that are playing here."