At halftime of the Buffalo Bills' Week 8 loss to Houston, team owner Ralph Wilson received his Hall of Fame ring in a ceremony held on the Bills logo at midfield of the stadium named after him. During his brief speech at that ceremony, Wilson did the typical thanks and praise routine. He also mentioned, to skeptical groans and half-hearted applause from the masses still in their seats at the time, that he'd do everything in his power to bring a championship to Buffalo.
According to John Wawrow of the Associated Press, who spoke with Wilson via phone from his home in Detroit, Wilson is sticking to his guns on that statement.
Quoting Wilson from Wawrow's report, which you can read in full here: "We've got to revamp and take a look at the whole operation, and that's what we're going to do... It's not about money, it's about winning."
Well, that's certainly a departure from the norm in Buffalo, to say the least. Coupled with reports that the Bills have names like Mike Shanahan and Bill Cowher on their short list of men to turn the franchise around, Buffalo has suddenly become a focal point of great interest league-wide.
On Shanahan, Cowher and the "big name coaches"
Throughout his 50 years as team owner of the Bills, Wilson has always been reluctant to hand full authority of his football team over to one man. NFL.com's Vic Carucci, however, reported last night that Wilson seems ready to change his mind in that regard:
The Bills, the source said, are willing to offer whatever salary is necessary to land a high-end candidate such as Shanahan and would give him total control of the football operation, something Wilson has generally been opposed to doing in the past.
"This is his (Wilson’s) last coach and (he) is going to do everything it takes to get it right," the source said of the 91-year-old owner.
I've spoken at length about how Buffalo needs an organizational makeover, top-to-bottom, at length in this space. Wilson, according to the AP quote above, is prepared to do that. He also appears prepared to put all his eggs in one basket in the form of giving one of the many proven-winner head coaches available full authority over personnel and coaching responsibilities. Wilson also claims above that he's willing to pay top dollar to bring one of those names in.
I'm not a huge fan of giving one man two hats. That's exactly what the Bills seem to be contemplating - letting one man coach the team and bring in all the players. That format has rarely proven to be successful at the NFL level, but at the very least, it's a departure from the mess the team has been over the last four years. At a minimum, one respected voice in the organization brings some credibility back to a franchise that has lacked in that department for the better part of a decade. If it happens - we'll get to that "if" in a moment - I could live with it.
And yes, for the record - I'm (pleasantly) floored. If Wilson stands by his word and throws wads of cash at the big names, how could one not be excited? At the very least, it would be a nice change of pace to see a typically ultra-conservative franchise roll the dice for once.
Not going after Shanahan?
Wilson did, however, shoot down speculation that the Bills were already in hot pursuit of Mike Shanahan. From Wawrow's report:
"I don’t know anything about [Shanahan]," [Wilson] said, adding the team will be releasing a statement later in the day to address the speculation.
That statement will be interesting, to say the least. Be prepared for a lot of reading between the lines.
Wilson's lack of commentary on the matter does little to quell yesterday's report from ESPN's Adam Schefter that the Bills are attempting to set up a meeting with Shanahan - which Carucci confirms will take place next week. Carucci takes it a step further, adding that former Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher is on Buffalo's short list of potential candidates. (Schefter, by the way, added three more not-as-prominent names to the mix: Jim Haslett, Kevin Gilbride and Marc Trestman.)
Buffalo is in a tricky situation right now. They have an interim head coach in place in Perry Fewell who they really like, and they want to support him as best they can over the next seven weeks. There's also the Rooney Rule complication. If Buffalo lands one of these big-name coaches before the end of the 2009 regular season - and I don't think I need to tell you that that remains a monumental "if" - they'd need to be creative about it. They'd need to hire that person as some sort of consultant, and then grant them a formal head coaching interview alongside Fewell at season's end. The early speculation is clearly going to be uncomfortable for Fewell, who should view this as a legitimate opportunity to make a name for himself, but it's also necessary, because there will be incredible competition for the likes of Shanahan and Cowher.
In all of this, it's (intentionally?) apparent that this media blitz that Wilson has accelerated today is making Buffalo seem like a more attractive destination than it probably is. That's obviously not a bad thing, because this is not an unattractive destination. The more we talk about this, the incrementally less begging and pleading we have to do in our big name interviews.
Missing on the big names won't be the end of the world
If the Schefter and Carucci reports are true - and Wilson's pending statement will do little to falsify those reports - it's pretty clear how the Bills believe they need to proceed. Hire a respected big name with a plan and let him do his thing. As mentioned above, I'm not completely on board with that idea, but it's certainly an improvement over what we've had.
Schefter was very accurate when he tweeted this earlier this morning:
With Mike Shanahan, Bills are going Big Bear Hunting. At very least, they can tell their fans they hunted the Big Bear and took their shot.
That's the other half of the beauty of this media blitz: Bills fans are excited again. Some of that excitement would trail off if Buffalo struck out in its courtship of Shanahan and Cowher - or any other big fish it pursues, for that matter - but it certainly wouldn't be the end of the world.
Only the big-name coaches are capable of carrying out what appears to be the Bills' highest priority - the dual Head Coach/General Manager role. If the Bills strike out, they'll be forced to bring in front office talent - because let's face it, without one of the big names, any plug-and-chug, run-of-the-mill head coach, no matter how qualified, would re-raise the massive amounts of skepticism from the fan base that has dwindled some over the past few days.
I still maintain that bringing in a GM who hires his own head coach - big name or small name - is the best possible decision the franchise could make. It might not be the quickest road back to respectability, but it's been proven to be the most successful route time and time again. That possibility becomes a probability if the likes of Shanahan and Cowher spurn Wilson's advances - and there's nothing wrong with that plan of attack.
Things might slow down on the big picture front for a while with a Week 11 tilt in Jacksonville on the horizon. One thing is for certain: this is going to be an incredibly fascinating off-season.