During his brief two-year tenure with the Buffalo Bills, head coach John Rauch saw some very questionable decisions by owner Ralph Wilson behind the scenes. In a continuation of our exclusive interview, Rauch's son details some of the many inadequacies his father witnessed in the organization.
"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," began John Rauch, Jr. "At the time, he thought Mr. Wilson ran the team as a toy."
It began when Rauch, Sr. was hired. The coach began working for the organization, but it took Mr. Wilson a significant amount of time to actually sign him to a contract.
"In 1969, he was offered the Bills job, as well as the job with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After accepting the Bills' job, he got a call from Art Rooney still offering him the Pittsburgh job," says the junior Rauch. "Dad told Mr. Rooney that he had given Mr. Wilson his word, but that if he didn't get a contract to sign soon, he would move on to the Steelers. So happens that within a few more days, he finally received a contract and he declined the Pittsburgh offer. They went on to sign Chuck Noll."
This type of contract mismanagement was apparently rampant during Rauch's time with the Bills. The elder Rauch was penning a book before he passed away, and in it described how the cash flow system worked. He cites a specific example with O.J. Simpson's rookie contract as evidence.
"Money in the Bills' front office was scarce, even though Ralph Wilson managed to take home a profit each year," penned the elder Rauch before his death. "This left the business office short handed until the new season ticket money came in July. O.J. and his agent of course didn't know how short the Bills were for cash... Perhaps there wasn't enough money in the business office to sign O.J. until the new budget came in July. By the time he signed, the Bills had been in training camp for two weeks of two practices a day."
The problems with the front office didn't stop once Simpson had signed his contract. Rauch detailed the organization putting football on the back burner for publicity in his unpublished book.
"Things were different here in Buffalo than in Oakland. The organization demanded that publicity was more important than getting O.J. ready to play a very tough football schedule... Another small but disturbing thing happened when O.J. reported to training camp. He wore the number 32 on his jersey while at USC. I don't know if 32 was his lucky number or what, but another Bills player wore 32 and he had worn it in the previous year while playing with the Bills. The organization wanted O.J. to be photographed wearing 32. They said give the other player another number. I refused to do it. The other player said he would not willingly give the number up. O.J.'s original Buffalo Bills photos were of him wearing number 36. [Ed note: check out this photo of O.J.'s 36] Now I had the publicity department, O.J.'s agent, O.J. and some others making a big deal out of the situation. I got off the hook when 32 got injured in a pre-season game. He was placed on injured reserve, and after recovering he was waived and gone. O.J. now had his coveted 32 again."
Simpson's case was not an isolated incident, according to the younger Rauch.
"Possibly the biggest problem he had was Mr. Wilson wanting to be the players' buddy and taking their side over supporting his coaching staff," said Rauch, Jr. "There were several instances that took place before the Ron McDole/Paul Maguire run-in that led to his resignation. One incident I recall is when O.J.'s buddy, A.J. Cowling of the infamous white Bronco chase, came late to practice. There was a standard fine for being late and it was issued to Cowling, but O.J. went crying to Mr. Wilson on A.J.'s behalf and Mr. Wilson rescinded the fine. Wilson always would cave to O.J. It is very difficult to coach a team when the players played the owner like a fiddle instead of supporting the organization that he owns."
Not only did Wilson meddle in player management, according to Rauch, but he also attempted to dictate the assistants Rauch could hire when he came on as head coach.
"Mr. Wilson also wanted him to keep all of Joe Collier's assistant coaches. Dad said no, but agreed to interview them. Mr. Wilson insisted that he keep Richie McCabe. To dad's regret, he agreed and kept him on staff, which shortly came back to bite him. After working hard for weeks to put together the new playbooks, dad arrived at work one morning and Richie's desk was empty. He left without saying a word and took the playbooks with him. He ended up going to the Raiders. He was furious for allowing Wilson to talk him into keeping McCabe against his judgment."
Rauch's tough philosophy also made him butt heads with the training staff on occasion. Ed Abramoski is a Bills Wall of Famer and Hall of Fame athletic trainer, but Rauch thought he was babying players.
"He also had problems with the training and medical staff," explains the junior Rauch. "He felt they were not aggressive enough getting players back on the field. At Oakland, he was used to players playing 'hurt' and being kept out if 'injured'. The Bills' medical staff had a long list of walking wounded, and he had several run-ins with the team doctor about this problem."
If the late 1960s and '70s are any indication of Wilson's organization, Rauch may have been right. The team had a lone playoff appearance in 1974. Wilson has been rumored to force out virtually every successful front office member in the organization's history. Still, someone so close to the inner workings of the Bills has never publicly made such harsh claims about the organization.