Wow. Six months ago, who would have predicted that Doug Whaley would still be employed by the Pegulas and their other general manager, Tim Murray, would be out on the street?
But that's the case in the wake of the stunning news that Murray and head coach Dan Byslma had been fired. I have to give the Pegulas credit. I didn't think they'd have the nerve to fire another head coach so soon after whacking Rex Ryan. This means both of the recycled big-name coaches who were hired in 2015 – becoming easily the highest-paid Buffalo head coaches ever in their respective sports – have been let go after just two years on the job.
Pegula said when he bought the Sabres that he didn't like firing people, that he wanted to give them a chance to prove themselves. That was when he was trying to justify the prolonged failures of Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff. He's been busily going through coaches ever since. Whoever replaces Bylsma will be the ninth head coach the Pegulas have employed in Buffalo since buying the Sabres in 2011, if you include Anthony Lynn's one-game stint as Bills' head man last December.
While this latest purge is a bold and warranted one, it surely doesn't paint the Pegulas as a stable sports ownership. Maybe they'll get it right this time, but it perpetuates the general dysfunction of their two major pro franchises and heightens the perception that they're over their heads owning multiple sports teams.
Murray's firing was a surprise. There was a general perception – if an exaggerated one – that he had made a lot of good moves and positioned the Sabres for success down the road. I figured Bylsma was in trouble after Murray's blunt comments last week, but didn't think the Pegulas would fire both guys and leave a gaping leadership hole in the organization.
It's amazing that Whaley is still employed as the Bills' general manager and Murray is gone. Of course, Whaley has been diminished in the organization. He wasn't expected to take part in today's pre-draft luncheon at One Bills Drive, which has historically been the province of the GM and his various scouts. That duty has been handed off to head coach Sean McDermott.
So think of this: The most empowered figure in Buffalo sports management right now is McDermott, who has yet to work his first game as an NFL head coach. By all indications, it is McDermott's vision that is driving the football operation. They've made him the singular voice of the franchise. If he's running the draft luncheon, you have to assume he has a major say in personnel matters these days.
I've been saying for years that Pegulas should hire a czar-type figure to oversee the Bills, some veteran football man who could tell them how to turn things around. They have yet to do it. McDermott is their czar now, which doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.
They had that sort of figure when they hired Pat LaFontaine to be team president four years ago. LaFontaine talked about building a more modern management structure, with the general manager answering to the president. He was fired soon after hiring Murray. The Pegulas apparently abandoned the idea of a wider hockey management structure. As a result, Murray became overly empowered.
Murray was popular for his straight-shooting style and bold approach. But many of his moves backfired. He allowed his defense to deteriorate and the Sabres took a huge step backward this season. He essentially put together a soft, finesse squad that wasn't that differrent from the teams Regier built.
Bylsma had a disconnect with the players. But most of the problems were of Murray's making, and the Pegulas acknowledged that fact by firing him. Bylsma was Murray's pick for coach, so he had to go, too. The Pegulas cleaned house and once again are faced with the daunting task for reconstructing leadership on one of their teams.
Based on past results, it's hard to feel optimistic. The Bills have the longest playoff drought in pro sports. The Sabres have the second-longest drought in the NHL. How long before Buffalo owns the longest in both sports?
Oh, and how much longer before Whaley is gone, too?