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Bucky Gleason: Bills GM Brandon Beane makes strong first impression

Halfway through his first news conference Friday after he was introduced as general manager, Brandon Beane made a point to say there would be no football czar with the Bills moving forward. He stressed the idea of a group effort to get this woebegone franchise turned in the right direction.

Bills fans who had been longing for one man to serve in the highest capacity of the football department may have felt a twinge of disappointment, but by Friday most had reconciled with the fact that new head coach Sean McDermott had been empowered more than any coach in franchise history.

Does it matter?

Not really.

The Bills have tried everything for the past 17 seasons. They had the disciplinarian in Gregg Williams and the former player in Mike Mularkey. They gave the sage old coach, Marv Levy, and the business whiz, and Russ Brandon, turns as GM. They hired the smart, quiet guy in Dick Jauron. And the offensive guy in Chan Gailey. And the loudmouth in Rex Ryan. And the young executive in Doug Whaley.

And they have continued spinning in circles. So, really, what's to lose?

Maybe they stumbled into the right combination with Beane, McDermott and others working in concert. It could lead to healthy debate and better decisions. But at least you can take comfort knowing these guys are in this thing together, unlike failed regimes of the recent past.

"It's going to be very similar to what Sean and I were used to in Carolina," Beane said. "I'm going to be over the football side. Sean is going to be over the coaches. But there is no czar around here. Sean isn't a czar. I'm not a czar. Every decision has to be collaborative. I think it's the only way."

Beane and McDermott formed their relationship during quiet nights with the Panthers while breaking down video and dissecting personnel, looking for any advantage they could find. The former interns shared a mutual appreciation for the path they took in the NFL.

Listening to Beane on Friday, it became evident that he and McDermott had similar views and spoke the same language. Both had put in their time under respected mentors before getting their big break. Their inexperience is undeniable, but with newcomers comes energy and enthusiasm that can lift an organization.

Beane is a rookie GM, but he sounded like a seasoned executive Friday. He came with an air of competence and confidence, someone worthy of your trust whether he was making personnel decisions or watching over your children. He carried himself like a professional. He sounded genuine.

The guy was, you know, normal. He didn't make bold predictions or false promises, the way Rex did as the lead clown in the circus. Beane emphasized building through the draft and the importance of organizational structure. Sustained success starts at the bottom, he said, not with big splashes.

By golly, the Bills have someone in charge who sounds like a straight shooter. If it turns out to be just talk, shame on me for believing him.

You would need to reach back to the late 1990s, when the late John Butler was in charge, for the same sense of comfort with the Bills' general manager. Butler didn't get everything right, but fans rested peacefully knowing he, and Bill Polian before him, always had the team's best intentions in mind.

Beane presented himself in much the same fashion Friday while making a strong first impression. He was upbeat and strummed the right chords on his first day, making sure he mentioned the empathy he had for long-suffering Bills fans. He spoke in a reassuring voice, with a hint of Southern charm, and absent braggadocio.

I'm always leery about giving someone too much credit on the first day. In fact, the only thing we know about Beane is that he's not Whaley. He and McDermott haven't blown a first-round draft pick or lost a game. Ryan was once hailed a savior, so it would be wise to harness your enthusiasm with Beane.

Will they get the Bills turned around? I have no idea. Nobody knows for sure if Beane can find the right players or whether McDermott can make the best use of them. But oppressed Bills fans can take comfort knowing that they trust one another. And that's also a shift from previous front offices.

"The unique thing that Sean and I had was respect," Beane said Friday. "I knew what Sean's roots were, that he had worked his way up and was as small as a go-fer for Andy Reid. … I respected how he earned his way as a defensive coordinator. I don't want to speak for Sean, but I think he saw the same in me."

You must say it was a productive week for Terry and Kim Pegula. Then again, it's not good when ownership is calling news conferences every other day to announce people getting hired to replace others who were fired. Beane climbed aboard Tuesday. Jason Botterill was introduced Thursday as the Sabres' GM.

The announcements were a step toward stability that had been lacking in both organizations. In the past month, Terry Pegula has gone from mostly invisible to the brink of overexposure. He even cracked a joke or two during the news conference Friday and was less clumsy than he was previously behind the microphone.

We'll see where it goes, but Beane's arrival was a welcome change. Buffalo needed someone from the outside who could evaluate everything from top to bottom. He showed up with an open mind and no connections to anybody in the building other than McDermott. Its importance when evaluating others should not be overlooked.

"I'm coming in with eyes wide open for everybody," Beane said.

McDermott is taking the same approach with his players. Now it's up to them to build from their relationship with the Panthers and make the right decisions with the Bills. For a fractured organization that has missed the postseason for 17 consecutive seasons, top people working in unison is a sign of progress.

The Bills were in disarray for so long that dysfunction became business as usual, the new normal, while they sold hope by the keg and missed the playoffs by a mile. It was easy to forget, amid all the losing and bogus sales pitches, how often they failed to meet even the minimum standards for efficiency.

Over the years, there were too many egos and self-serving agendas in the way, too many people trying to justify their existence and protecting their jobs. Winning became lost in the shuffle. They insisted every year that winning was the goal, but it has been years – many years – since it was clearly their top priority.

The same was true about the Sabres under the Pegulas' ownership. Ryan wore the floppy shoes and red nose with the Bills while Whaley walked the high wire. Tim Murray became a cartoon character, a source of amusement, with the Sabres. They gave Whaley and Murray contract extensions, which is akin to hiring them.

I've said many times that it's difficult to trust people who are hired when you don't trust the people doing the hiring. Results ultimately determine success and credibility. No matter how backward their execution, from the head coach getting hired and helping to hire the general manager, it could be a match.

You can only hope.

"We built a good relationship in Carolina," Beane said. "I trust Sean, and Sean trusts me. I think we're going to make a heck of a partnership."


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