It’s time for some venerable Bills fans (like myself) to step up and reach out to younger fans in search for a reason to ‘Billieve” after 14 years of frustration. Yes, it’s definitely time. Those of us who have nearly completed the fossilization process can and probably should offer some insight and reasons for optimism regarding the future of the Bills. Take the opinions for what they’re worth, but living long enough and being open-minded still remains the best teacher from my perspective.
For example, if you pay attention to the fluctuation of winning and losing the Bills organization has experienced for over five decades and examine how the front office was functioning at any given point in time, an interesting pattern seems to emerge. Outside of the AFL championship years in the mid-60’s, most of Buffalo’s success appears to have come when Mr. Wilson opened up the purse strings and paid top dollar to go after the best coaching staffs and elite players.
It was only after fans complained bitterly in the late 60’s that the organization was being “cheap” and not willing to pay a competitive salary that they hired Chuck Knox. Coach Knox was an “elite” hire at the time, and he proved his worth in short order by turning the Bills into a successful hard-nosed “Ground Chuck” team. However, when it came time to renew his contract, frugality ruled the day and Knox bolted out of Western New York. Once again the team was mired down by a long period of mediocrity.
The Bills fell into good fortune when they hired Marv Levy. Coach Levy was not a big name among coaches in the NFL at the time he was hired. However, the Bills finally got rewarded for their miserable record in the mid-1980’s by drafting Jim Kelly. When Kelly realized his path to the NFL would have to go through Buffalo after the USFL folded, the collision of opportunity and motivation got the Bills off the schnide once again. It was only through the opening of the purse strings that the incredible “Glory Years” of the 90’s took place (at great expense to the salary cap).
The only exception to the rule in terms of paying for top dollar talent in the front office that did NOT result in team success was the Tom Donahoe era. Donahoe hired Tom Modrak, whose epic failure at drafting talent in the early rounds can only be described as mind-boggling. I’m pretty sure the fan base could have made better draft picks during those years.
No one can dispute that Mr. Wilson is one tough individual, having made it to 95 years of age. From all reports he is still going strong, but last season he made the unprecedented move of handing over the real authority of all team decisions to Russ Brandon. That must have been difficult for Mr. Wilson, after he admitted feeling “burned” by the failure of the Tom Donahoe era.
How do we know that there has truly been a passing of the torch? Look no further than how differently this team approached hiring talented coaches to replace Chan Gailey and his staff?
The speed with which the Bills moved to hire Doug Marrone and staff was eyebrow-raising for those of us used to the Bills dickering around so long about money and contracts that they developed a poor reputation around the NFL.
Or how about Mike Pettine’s success in Buffalo? After one year as Bills Defensive Coordinator, Pettine was hired away by the Cleveland Browns. This was the first time since Ted Marchibroda in 1992 that another team took a Bills coordinator and hired him as a head coach in the NFL. Pettine’s departure was one of the first signs that business is NOT as usual at One Bills Drive.
After Pettine left, the Bills were ready. Buffalo went out and hired one of the top defensive minds in the NFL in Jim Schwartz to take over the star-studded defense. This comes only a few years after the Bills were unable to generate ANY interest in the head coaching job after Dick Jauron was fired. So what’s changed?
What has changed is obviously (yes, I did go there and use that word) Russ Brandon is running this franchise and is no longer just a figurehead standing in for Mr. Wilson. It was clear from the message being given by top coaching talent that no one would be interested in coaching in Buffalo with the future of the franchise at an “uncertain” point because of Mr. Wilson’s intention to sell the team upon his death.
There was what I perceived to be a lack of clarity about who was making decisions for the organization. The takeaway from that is that until you step out of the shade and clear up any misconceptions about who is running the show, top front office talent will show little interest in coming to the Bills.
In fact, I believe that is what is happening now in Cleveland. There are questions outside the realm of football that surround new ownership of the Browns. They had top talent refuse to interview for the vacant head-coaching job after the season.
Of course the Browns did not help themselves by firing their last head coach in less than a calendar year in the job. The same thing occurred when the Dolphins were looking for a GM after the season. However, that is a subject all its own.
So, how has Russ Brandon performed in his now clearly defined role after his first year? He gets a solid B+ from this old Bills fan. I cannot go back in time and pinpoint an example of the Bills ever going out and getting top coaching talent in less than a week.
The same pattern took place by getting Schwartz in place soon after Pettine accepted the Browns’ head coaching job. Previously, the Bills were known for doggedly drawing out contract negotiations to the point of total frustration for the fan base. Fortunately, this no longer seems to be the case.
Mr. Brandon came close to receiving the grade of an “A” from this fan, but I reserve room for improvement, as it is also true that just because you can make fast decisions doesn’t mean you’ve made the right decisions. I reserve some wiggle room in terms of going all out in my support until the team makes the playoffs again. “Don’t confuse effort with results” can be applied to Mr. Brandon as well as the players on the team.
To date, I believe there is ample evidence out there for Bills fans to feel optimistic about the future performance of the team. If a nimble front office is what will attract top talent, the Bills are now being managed from a different perspective under Mr. Brandon. This different and more aggressive approach to team management is evident by the type of people who are now interested, applying, and working for the Bills.
Please Note: After a few weeks off from blogging, I am back in the saddle. Stay tuned for more wyobabble throughout the off-season as we explore “Reasons For Optimism”. If you would like to respond to any of my blog posts, feel free to post your comments directly to me on Twitter @wyobilzfan. I look forward to sharing your comments and creating some interesting off-season dialogue. Go Bills!