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Jerry Sullivan's Mailbag: Excellence should be the only standard for Pegulas

Vince Lombardi once said, "Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence."

Perfection? The Bills have spent nearly two decades chasing their tail. They're experts at spinning in circles and finding themselves right back where they started. After two weeks of reports about the Pegulas being prepared to fire Rex Ryan as their head coach, I'm not sure what to expect.

They might be waiting for the Bills to beat three more inferior quarterbacks and finish 9-7, so they can keep Rex and maintain the status quo. Which means another year in the perpetual pursuit of mediocrity.

The Mailbag:

Michael Schwartz asks: The Pegulas have been called "amateurs" by local media. Seems they're over the honeymoon period after saving the Bills from leaving Buffalo. As much as it pains me that it's always the same old  Bills, I'd prefer it to having no team at all. What are your thoughts?

Sully: I understand that Kim and Terry Pegula have done a lot for the city, though it's debatable whether the Bills would have left town if they hadn't bought the team. I certainly don't believe that the Sabres would have left.

It gets tiresome having to preface criticism of the Pegulas with reminders of what they've done for Buffalo. That stuff has an expiration date. At some point, they need to be treated as owners of two precious pro sports teams, and held to a correspondingly high standard.

I don't imagine the sports owners in New York, Chicago or Boston get a free pass because of their civic contributions. If Buffalo is such a tough, blue-collar sports town, it should let the Pegulas know that existing simply isn't good enough. They don't want a team that's a national embarrassment.

Buffalo fans should be careful about mindless devotion to ownership. If people lower their expectations because they feel lucky to have a team, the Pegulas might decide average is good enough. If you don't demand that they chase perfecton, you'll get what you deserve in the end.

* * *

Rick McGuire asks: Assuming the Bills tank down the stretch and Rex and his staff are let go, who do you see as possible replacement candidates? I've been pushing for Tom Coughlin to be hired here. Strict disciplinarian and seems to have Bill Belichick's number. What do you think?

Sully: They would be lucky to get a coach of Coughlin's caliber, considering the organizational dysfunction. I don't care if he's 70 years old. The guy beat the Patriots and Tom Brady twice in the Super Bowl. He didn't forget how to coach after one year out of the game.

But I doubt Coughlin would be interested in Buffalo. Word is, he wants to go back to Jacksonville. He and his wife have a home there. There are rumors about Coughlin going to the Bills if Ryan gets fired, but that could be a plant to scare the Jags into thinking he might go elsewhere.

Coughlin has consulted with the Pegulas, who do show an inclination to seek the advice of competent, veteran NFL types. At his age, he would want full control of the roster. So he would not be a good fit with Whaley, who has had issues with two head coaches already.

So it's not only whether Ryan and his staff will be let go, but whether Whaley would remain and want to retain his current level of power.

* * *

@timothygrabowsk asks: Don't you think you should get a new general manager before you replace Rex?

@InsuranceHitman asks: Since nothing will change at the top of the Bills' organization, are you in favor of another year of Rex? Why/why not?

Sully: This is a huge issue facing ownership at the moment. How can they fire Ryan and leave Whaley in place? By leaving Rex dangling while national reports of his imminent firing swirl, they're making Ryan a sympathetic figure as public sentiment builds to get rid of Whaley as well.

I have no problem with firing Ryan. They're spinning their wheels with Rex, whose model for winning -- run half the time, play great defense and avoid turnovers with a marginal quarterback -- is outdated and a recipe for mediocrity in today's NFL. He's below .500 for his career and barring a miracle, he will fail to make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

But Whaley is equally responsible for this mess. Russ Brandon shares some of the blame, too. The Bills are financially strapped. A slew of free agents are headed out the door. They'll get worse before they get better. So if they're going to run people out of here, they shouldn't middle it.

Both questions touch on the main point. They should not fire Ryan if they don't intend to blow up the operation and bring in new people to run the show. Having Whaley and Brandon hire the new coach would be repeating the same mistake. That would be middling it, in true Bills fashion.

* * *

Bill Nowak asks: Robin Lehner gets by on his size but his quirky fundamentals and Bullwinkle-like agility are major flaws. Is GM Tim Murray trying to will him into the impossible to prove himself right?

Sully: Murray traded a first-round pick for Lehner, so the standard and pressure should be high. But Lehner has been good this season. His save percentage is 15th in the NHL and he has kept the Sabres in games at times. The problem is overtime and shootouts. He's a dreadful 0-for-6 in shootouts, which has cost them points that could be vital down the stretch.

But it's way too early to suggest that Murray blew it with that trade, or that his ego is in the way. It's the coach who decides which goalie to play.

Anders Nilsson has been better in his 10 games (.933 save percentage, 2.22 goals-against). So if Lehner slips and Nilsson maintains that level of play, there could be a clamor for the backup. But Nilsson's career record says he's performing over his head. It's Lehner's job to lose.

* * *

John Kantor asks: Are you glad to see college football players finally recognizing there is nothing for them to gain by playing in meaningless bowls?

Sully: I have no problem with it. If Stanford's Christian McCaffery and LSU's Leonard Fournette want to skip out on minor bowls to make sure they're in good health for workouts before the NFL draft, more power to them.

Major college football is a lucrative, corrupt enterprise. At the top levels, colleges use the players to generate massive TV revenue for the programs and the coaches, most of whom make millions to coach football in the name of higher academics.

The coaches get rich off these kids. They have no problem bolting in the middle of the season. In fact, four head coaches won't coach in this interminable bowl season because they've taken new jobs.

Coaches use the prospect of getting to the NFL in recruiting teen-agers. Both sides know what they're getting into. Most of these bowls are duds, anyway. I'm a fan of Buffalo Wild Wings, but really, they sponsor a bowl game?

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