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Jerry Sullivan's mailbag: Bills aren't exactly doing a coaching star search

The mailbox has really blown up over the past week or so. That's what a lot of disgusted Bills fans want the Pegulas to do to their football operation: Blow the whole thing sky-high and start over.

Yes, folks are up in arms about the mess down at One Bills Drive. That Doug Whaley press conference represented a new low. Most fans don't believe this coaching search will do much to rectify a dysfunctional situation.

Even some of the people who despise me are starting to agree with me. They still want me to retire, but ask if I could perhaps take Whaley with me. I'll try to be as brief, so I can get to as many posts as possible.

The Mailbag, starting with a twofer:

Rick McGuire asks: The overwhelming consensus is that Anthony Lynn will be the next head coach. How much should we buy in to an actual "thorough" search? Will any other so-called candidates seriously be considered?

@joetrimper1 asks: After shooting for top coaches in hockey and football, why does it look like the Pegulas are stepping back this time?

Sully: The list of candidates in The Buffalo News included Lynn and four coordinators (Harold Goodwin, Vance Joseph, Sean McDermott, Frank Reich) who haven't been head coaches in college or in the NFL. The two prominent non-candidates were Tom Coughlin and Josh McDaniel, former head men.

That tells me the Bills want to go through the motions of a search that makes Lynn look like the most desirable candidate. He has more head coaching experience than anyone else in that group -- yes, one whole game as interim last week against the Jets.

The fact that they're not reaching out to former head coaches is a clear sign that they don't want anyone who has the clout to challenge Whaley and demand to be the most empowered figure in the football department. No one with an alternative will be interested in coming to work under Whaley.

I do think there should be a clearer chain of command with the new coach. The model that has the head coach and GM as equals, answering only to the owner, is a proven recipe for disaster. Two straight coaches have sparred with Whaley for power, with predictably fractious results.

Nowadays, several of the more successful teams (New England, Seattle) have a structure that gives the head coach the most power and has the GM working under him. Of course, if the Pegulas opted for that sort of arrangement, the new coach would want to hire his own GM and get rid of Whaley.

Now it seems they'll go for the model that has the GM as the head coach's superior (though Whaley didn't seem to know for sure at his presser). That would be a grand idea, if it didn't give Whaley even more control over a mess that was largely his own making.

The best strategy for the Bills would be to hire a rising general manager type from the outside and let him rebuild the entire football operation.
JerseyDevil asks: The Pegulas looked smart at the start looking at a Polian-type czar. Why did they give up on that type of approach?

Sully: That's a great question. Once the Polian thing fell through, they got lazy and allowed Russ Brandon to lead them to Rex Ryan. That gave them a major NFL personality who could sell tickets and presumably get them to the playoffs. But it simply pushed the problem two years into the future.

Last spring, the Pegulas spoke to Coughlin, who works in the NFL office, for advice on the football operation. It wouldn't surprise me if they talked about hiring him in the czar role, or even as a head coach.

My guess is that Coughlin told them he wouldn't come here unless he had full control of the roster and wasn't interested in working under Whaley.

@cruzer1977 asks: Do you think other teams are seriously interested in Lynn? Or are they just fulfilling the Rooney Rule obligation?

Sully: In most cases, the interest is genuine. But the black coaches would be the first to tell you that teams often grant token interviews simply to comply with the Rooney rule. I remember former Bills assistant Ted Cottrell lamenting the practice in the early days of the rule.

There will always be teams who go through the motions to meet the Rooney Rule. But in the end, it's a positive thing for minority candidates, who get to go through the interview process and get acquainted with the other owners and personnel men around the NFL.

@LouSperanza asks: Locker cleanout had players saying they were eating, sleeping, tardy at meeting. Rex w/ Jets was infamous for this. Pegulas oblivious?

Sully: Funny how players talk about how much they love Rex when he's coaching, then spill their guts about all the discipline problems once he's out the door. Maybe Rex's players loved him so much because he ran a loose ship and let them get away with that sort of stuff.

I don't think Pegula was oblivious. In fact I imagine the lack of discipline was one of the things Whaley used against Ryan to help get him fired. Oh, wait a minute, Doug said he had zero input on the firing!

Parker Brown asks: Has anyone figured out what Doug Whaley does for a living?

Sully: I'll have to refer you to the junior columnist, Bucky Gleason, on that one.

Anthony Angrisano asks: Do you feel the Bills front office is in worse shape than it was when Kay Stephenson & Hank Bullough were here?

Sully: My lord, yes. When Stephenson and Bullough were with the Bills, a future Hall of Famer named Polian was rising in the personnel department. Perhaps you've heard of the man?

Lou Brown asks: What's the new Over/Under on how many more years the Bills drought will continue?

Sully: Lou, I remember people laughing in the mid-2000s when I said the drought would reach 10 years. Now we're staring down the barrel of 20. I've predicted a record in the 17-31 range the next three years. So if I had to set an over/under, I'd generously put it at four more years.

@dcgena asks: If anyone in this world leads a charmed life, it has to be Doug Whaley. How does he manage to escape accountability?

Sully: I'm asked that a lot these days. I've lost count of the number of people who have asked, half-jokingly, if Whaley has some sort of incriminating information on the owners.

From what I can gather, Terry Pegula likes and trusts Whaley, who certainly has his ear on Bills matters. He needs to believe in someone or blow up the operation, so trusting Whaley is the easier option, at least for now.

@jpitirri asks: Where is Reggie Witherspoon among the best local men's college basketball coaches ever?

Sully: Bless you, a hoop question! I can't speak for the fond old days when they had those doubleheaders at the Aud. But I can evaluate the college coaches I've seen since I came to Buffalo nearly 28 years ago.

I would rank them this way: 1. John Beilein; 2. Mark Schmidt; 3. Joe Mihalich; 4. Witherspoon.

I've been a supporter of Reggie since he was coaching at Sweet Home. He's as good a teacher of the game as I've seen. But the other three made the NCAA Tournament. Maybe Witherspoon's time is coming with this Canisius team, which should be in the hunt at the MAAC tourney in March.

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