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Jerry Sullivan: Whaley fiddles while Rex burns

We're going on 10 days since the reports began flying about Rex Ryan's job being in serious jeopardy. On Tuesday, Ryan answered the usual questions as best as he could, without any visible trace of rancor or resentment.

That's one thing you have to admire about Rex, he never loses his cool in front of a microphone. He might say goofy things, or skirt the truth at times, but he understands the media's job and respects the process (maybe because he'll be part of the media himself before long).

No doubt, his experience with the Jets prepared Rex for times like this. His end times in New York were especially turbulent. He was at odds with management then, too. But his dignity and sense of humor remained intact.

"Maybe so," Ryan said on Media Day, which was moved up a day to account for Saturday's home game against Miami. "Being around the NFL as long as I have -- and I think someone said a Ryan has been on the sidelines at an NFL game for 45 years -- might have something to do with it.

"I know the business," he said.

The pro football business can be petty and unkind, as Rex well knows. So he stands there in front of the media room, the smiling face of a dysfunctional franchise, and takes the heat, while management allows him to twist in the wind.

Meanwhile, general manager Doug Whaley and the franchise's other authority figures sit back and say nothing. No press releases. No vote of confidence from the owners. No media sessions. Only a very deafening silence.

Whaley has been predictably absent in all this. The Bills tell us that Whaley and Ryan have a strong working relationship, that they're joined at the hip, but in Rex's time of crisis, the general manager hasn't uttered one word.

Nothing from the Pegulas, either, which is hardly a surprise. When it comes to dealing with a public crisis, it's strictly amateur hour with these people. I realized that from the day Terry set foot in town as the Sabres owner and accused me of harming Tim Connolly's play with my critical columns.

But Whaley should be expected to face the music in tough times. The only interview he's given since the rumors of Ryan's firing hit before the Steelers game was his regular spot on WGR radio, where he somehow wasn't asked about Ryan's situation.

The only time Whaley has met with the Bills beat writers during the season was after the monumental re-signing of Percy Harvin. A year ago, it took pleading and a week's wait for the Bills to make the GM available to the press in London to discuss his controversial decision to trade Matt Cassel and make his pet, EJ Manuel, the backup quarterback.

A couple of us requested Whaley on Tuesday and were told he wasn't "currently available." I imagine we'd have had more luck asking for a sitdown with Pope Francis. During the bye week, the Bills rejected a request from the Associated Press and said Whaley was only contractually obligated to do his weekly radio show. So you need a contract?

The News has made similar requests, going back to training camp, to no avail. Whaley agreed to a question-and-answer feature for our NFL Preview section, then backed out later. Why expose yourself to tough questioning, as Ryan does virtually every day from July until January?

The longer this goes, the more certain I am that Ryan is in deep trouble. If not, why wouldn't Pegula come out and give him a vote of confidence? Even if reports from numerous respected NFL writers were fabricated out of thin air -- which is beyond ludicrous -- wouldn't they emerge from behind the curtain and show their coach a little support?

And even if they're planning to whack Ryan, it wouldn't hurt for Whaley to show his face and take some of the heat for the team's disappointing performance. Take a few soft tosses about Tyrod Taylor, make the requisite injury excuses, tell us about all the marvelous talent he's recruited. But say something.

Maybe Whaley prefers to hide because he's not as safe as people have been led to believe and needs to separate himself from the coach. The longer this drags on, the more evident it becomes that he's just as culpable as Ryan for the Bills' mediocre performance the last two seasons.

Well, it could be that Whaley doesn't want to explain how it is that the Bills have fewer of their own draft picks on the active roster than any other team in the NFL, as Tim Graham laid out in his Monday column.

Or perhaps Doug doesn't care to tell us why he gets credit for the good moves that were made before he became general manager, while the bad ones get laid at the feet of former GM Buddy Nix.

Whaley could explain why the Bills still don't scout underclassmen until they declare for the draft, or why they take so many guys who are hurt, or why he didn't do more to bolster his depth at wide receiver when he knew Sammy Watkins had a serious injury.

You don't need the CIA to figure this one out. With all that baggage, it's only natural that Whaley would be telling ownership -- and his friends in the national media -- how he gave Ryan a superior roster and Rex squandered a glorious chance for the Bills to break the 16-year playoff drought.

I'm not saying Ryan doesn't deserve to be fired. But if Whaley really had a good relationship with Rex, as they often contend, he would offer a merciful gesture and take some of the heat off Ryan during a trying time.

Watching Rex in interviews lately, I feel as sorry as one can for a man who has a guaranteed $16.5 million left on his deal. Maybe that's the grand plan here, to make Rex a sympathetic figure in case the Bills finish 9-7. Then they can go status quo and tell everyone it was the media's fault.

For now, they've turned Ryan into a dead man walking. That's a pretty shabby way to treat a guy who helped you sell the most season tickets in franchise history when you hired him. It's weak and gutless, and it makes them look like amateurs. Which is exactly what they are.

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