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Bucky Gleason: Rex takes the fall, but Bills' problems start at the top

Last weekend, when a dejected Rex Ryan stood before the microphone explaining away another loss, he promised to stand behind his reputation. Even at the end, he was oblivious to the fact that many viewed him as a blowhard who was incapable of successfully running a football team.

Rex had lived off his first two seasons as a head coach, when he took the Jets to the AFC Championship Game. Over his final six years with the Bills and Jets, he had a 41-54 record, didn’t have a single winning season and missed the playoffs every year. His exit from Buffalo was only a matter of time.

Ryan was fired just before noon Tuesday, but the decision was made several weeks ago. Ownership was leaning toward dumping him before the Oakland game and was convinced after yet another Buffalo collapse. Even if the Bills won their final four games, they were prepared to give him the heave-ho.

Rex was 15-16 in Buffalo before he was sent on his way, giving him the highest winning percentage among Bills’ head coaches since Wade Phillips. His record over two seasons was a problem but not his biggest problem. The primary issue with him was his overall incompetence, especially when it came to his defense.

Terry and Kim Pegula also grew tired of the clown show, which was funny. Their inactivity since taking over the franchise was consistent with how they conducted business with the Sabres before driving them into the ground.

Brace yourselves, people.

It could happen with the Bills.

Ryan took the fall Tuesday and deservedly so. He was the Bills’ ringleader. He should have been fired after last season. He could have been fired two games into this season. He certainly should have been gone when they made the decision three weeks ago. Then again, they shouldn’t have hired him in the first place.

The Bills were caught with 10 men on the field numerous times this season, including during a five-game stretch that showed alarming ineptitude by the head coach. It happened twice on critical plays Saturday, on a tying 55-yard field goal late in regulation and again on a 57-yard run in overtime that handed Miami the win.

Buffalo’s loss to Miami was the continuation of a coaching tenure marked by a lack of discipline on and off the field, and mental mistakes that suggested Ryan failed to pay attention to detail. He exercised terrible clock management, made worse decisions on replay, and his poor preparation was reflected in his record.

Otherwise, he was fantastic.

If there was any doubt about his future, and in their minds his fate was already determined, he was through Saturday.  Why did they have him address the media Monday as if nothing had changed? Why did they leave him twisting in the wind for the better part of a month? I have no idea.

NFL executives must be laughing at the Bills, a bumbling franchise with no plan. Terry and Kim Pegula once again look like amateurs who aren’t sure where to turn for the right people, as if they’re hoping to stumble into success by accident.

They took the same approach with the Sabres, a troubled franchise that became progressively worse after they bought the team. While many were thankful they purchased the Bills after Ralph Wilson died, there also was a very real possibility of Buffalo winding up with two dysfunctional franchises rather than one.

Well, look at the results.

Ownership has made so many mistakes with the Bills and Sabres that I’m not sure how they could inspire confidence in any decision made with either franchise.

Leading into their purchase of the Sabres, I suggested that the Pegulas’ biggest chore would be finding people to push their personal agendas to the side and give them the cold and simple truth. Six years later, they’re still getting bad advice and listening to the wrong people. In that respect, they’re getting what they deserve.

Bills fans can’t be too comfortable with Doug Whaley leading to the search for Ryan’s replacement, assuming there is one. Don’t be surprised if they announce, after a thorough and exhaustive investigation into all candidates, that the right man, Anthony Lynn, was under their noses the entire time. It’s an easy spin.

As it stands now, Lynn is the top candidate to replace Ryan because he’s one of few who would work under Whaley. It hasn’t dawned on ownership that no coach worth having would relinquish that much control over personnel. He would be taking the job for the wrong reasons, which is what the Bills don’t need.

If they couldn’t see through Rex, it’s because they failed to open their eyes. Blame me, too. I was skeptical of Ryan before he was hired, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt afterward. I should have listened to my initial instincts and criticized the move rather than wait  – about 15 minutes.

Ryan arrived proclaiming his defensive genius, leading with his chin and pleading with desperate Bills fans to climb aboard the Rex Express. Many did. He was new and exciting and bold and funny. All the characteristics that people despised about Rex during his days with the Jets became attractive when he took over the Bills.

He turned the Bills into a national story and made them relevant again before coaching his first game. He sold hope. He sold tickets. He also sold the idea that he would bring the Bills back to prominence. He sold himself to gullible owners and enabled top advisors, Russ Brandon and Whaley, to gain more power.

In essence, he sold acres upon acres of swampland for $27.5 million in one of the biggest heists this side of Ville Leino. If the Bills are ever going to break their playoff drought, which has been stretched to 17 seasons, they need to drain the swamp. It started with firing Ryan. We’ll see where it ends.

Whaley and Brandon will remain in command until the Pegulas figure out that they should have fired the general manager and reassigned duties of the president. The Pegulas should be suspicious of their top administrators based on their track record alone.

Ryan quickly showed that he was bluster and nothing more. He ruined a defense that was ranked in the Top 5 before he arrived. Last year, he insinuated that he was behind the times. On Saturday, after his defense failed miserably yet again, he talked about NFL offenses being better than ever.

The Bills crumbled in the second half against the Raiders. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell rushed for 236 yards the following week. Ryan insisted the Bills would be better against Jay Ajayi after the Dolphins back carved them for 214 yards in Week Seven. He was right. Buffalo limited Ajayi to only 206 yards rushing Saturday in the rematch.

All along, Ryan took Western New Yorkers as a region of bumpkins that he could win over with his personality. He didn’t realize until it was too late that the same warm and friendly people who celebrated his arrival would become cold-hearted critics once they realized he had taken them for a ride.

Rex never understood that humility and honesty works best in Buffalo, two qualities he had in short supply. Perception quickly changed. The same man who was initially praised for being bold was viewed as a braggart. The confidence he showed without merit made him a con man. Buffalo came to see him as a buffoon.

The Pegulas made the right decision to fire Ryan and his brother, Rob, his personal and professional confidant. The two entered the world together and could leave coaching together. No need to worry about them. They’re laughing all the way to the bank after running away with a pile of loot.

Lynn will coach the Bills in their season finale Sunday against the Jets. Ready or not, he’s expected to keep the job into next season. Whaley and Brandon already identified him a viable replacement after blaming Ryan. Yet again, the Pegulas appear intent on listening to the very people who led them astray with Rex.

Whaley and Brandon appear to be safe, a testament to their survival skills. Brandon’s influence in the organization stretches back years, although it’s not entirely clear how much power he had when hiring previous failures. He and Whaley presided when the Bills hired Marrone and Ryan.

Marrone had great disdain for Whaley and left with $4 million, thanks to an asinine clause that Brandon included in his contract. They celebrated after hiring Ryan, who was kicked to the curb with three full seasons remaining on a five-year contract worth $27 million. Marrone and Rex are gone. Whaley and Brandon are allowed to stay.

It’s remarkable, really.

Terry and Kim Pegula should be sickened by the fact that they were forced into paying three men – Marrone, Rex and former offensive coordinator Greg Roman – about $24.5 million to not coach. You can add Rob Ryan to the list. There will be more after the Bills finish purging Ryan’s coaching staff.

The wise move would be firing Whaley and finding a GM-coach combination that can work in unison while keeping Brandon as far away from football-related decisions as possible. Terry and Kim Pegula should have looked for assistance from an NFL committee that offers advice on creating a path to success.

This is nothing against Lynn. Assuming he’s hired, he could turn into a fine head coach. Nobody knows for sure whether Lynn will succeed, certainly not Brandon, Whaley & Co., because he hasn’t been a head coach. He did an admirable job with the offense after taking over for Roman two weeks into the season.

Lynn would have been a candidate for numerous vacancies this offseason. He might be the right man for the job under any other circumstances. But something tells me that the biggest reason the Bills are leaning heavily toward keeping him is because they’re infatuated with Whaley.

Whaley will be able to control Lynn, who will be indebted to his boss for supporting him and promoting him, and the 53-man roster. Look for Lynn to keep Tyrod Taylor on the bench against the Jets, removing the possibility of injury and ensuring the Bills aren’t forced into paying a penny of his $90 million contract extension.

No problem there, but Whaley best be careful. The Pegulas kept Darcy Regier around when it was obvious he needed to be fired. They booted Lindy Ruff first and began removing excuses, layer by layer, for their general manager. By the time Regier left, the organization was in ashes and set back years.

Lindy wasn’t the only problem. Neither was Rex. It’s a matter of time before ownership realized that problems run deeper. By the time they understand issues at the top, there’s a good chance the Bills will be sitting at the bottom.

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