40 years ago today, John Rauch resigned as Buffalo Bills head coach after a dispute with owner Ralph Wilson. Wilson was going to publicly support two former Bills players who had moved on from the organization, while Rauch wanted to focus on the current team. His son, John Rauch, Jr., spoke exclusively with Buffalo Rumblings last week to share his father's take on the entire ordeal.
When defensive lineman Ron McDole was traded to the Washington Redskins, Rauch publicly took a united front with the rest of the organization in the face of the unpopularity of the move.
"My dad has told me that he [took a united stance] out of loyalty to Mr. Wilson," said the younger Rauch. "He could have said, 'I had nothing to do with the trade. Ask Mr. Wilson,' but he didn't. He supported the Bills organization and gave that overall statement that supported why Mr. Wilson made the trade."
Things began to unravel very quickly once training camp began in 1971.
"On Friday after camp started, Wilson arrived and after practice they went into one of the back rooms in one of those cottages at Niagara that was used for offices," continued Rauch. "Wilson said that McDole and [former Bills punter] Paul Maguire had given many years to the Buffalo Bills, and (Wilson) was going to issue a statement supporting them. This really pissed my dad off. He told Wilson that they were preparing for the '71 season, and these guys don't play for the Bills. If he did this, he could have his resignation. Wilson called his bluff and accepted. He always regretted giving Wilson an ultimatum."
This ultimatum sealed Rauch's fate and let Wilson off the hook for Rauch's salary.
"He regretted the ultimatum because he felt that the Bills were about to turn things around in the '71 season," said Rauch. "They had replaced a lot of players from previous years, and had many young players that were taking to his system and regimen. Dennis Shaw was the '70 Rookie of the Year at QB. They still had James Harris as a strong-armed backup. The offensive line was young, but was better prepared to pick up the pace blocking for O.J. Simpson, Wayne Patrick and Jim Braxton. Haven Moses was becoming a great wide receiver, as well as Marlin Briscoe. Two rookies were drafted in J.D. Hill and Bob Chandler. These would have been four of the best receivers in the league.
"Defensively, he thought they would have been far better," continued Rauch. "One of the reasons fans complained about O.J. not running the ball more was because the team usually had to play catch-up early in a game. The defense gave up a lot of points. He was not the pass-happy coach that was printed. Yes, he liked to throw deep, but if you look at his Raider teams, he actually ran a balanced offense. When you're losing 21-nothing in the first quarter, you need to pass to get points on the board."
Rauch's ultimatum cost him his job rather quickly. It's a decision the elder Rauch would regret his entire life. The regret didn't come from never being a head coach again, but because of how the resignation happened.
"I think he knew he acted out of anger and wished he had told Wilson how he felt about Wilson's lack of loyalty. Wilson would then have had to either back down on issuing the statement supporting McDole and Maguire, make the statement and have conflict with his coach, or fire him. Wilson more than likely would have made the statement because he always took the player's side, and suffered with bad blood with his coach until he could have got rid of him cheaply. He also knew they were better than a 1-13 team, and thought under his system, they would have had a much better record in '71."
Despite the bad terms on which the two sides ended, Rauch doesn't believe his father held any lasting resentment towards the Bills or Mr. Wilson.
"He did feel the organization was not very professional and was run by a bunch of Mr. Wilson's 'good ole boys' who were not real football men," Rauch said. "At the time, he thought Mr. Wilson ran the team as a toy."
We'll have more on Rauch's thoughts regarding the infrastructure of the team in our next post.
After Rauch resigned, the Bills once again turned to Harvey Johnson, who had been interim head coach before Rauch arrived. Rauch landed a job as quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles before moving on to the Toronto Argonauts as head coach. He finished his coaching career in the USFL.
John Rauch passed away in his sleep in 2008 after coaching for 25 years. His record as head coach in Buffalo was 7-20-1.