Less than a week after the Buffalo Bills ended their 2007 season, the team is once again attempting to answer difficult questions. At this point, candidate searches at General Manager and Offensive Coordinator are the hot topic. But from amongst those stories - especially the GM story - new questions have surfaced. They center around head coach Dick Jauron, his status with the Bills, and whether or not his presence on the team will effect the hirings at GM and OC, or vice versa.
Let's get this out of the way immediately: if you look at the support Jauron has from owner Ralph Wilson, former GM Marv Levy and his players, there's no question that most within the Bills organization feel that Jauron is the right man to lead this franchise into the future. Seriously - you can't debate that; no argument contrary to that evidence is logical. Yet still, popular opinion of the fan base and media coverage indicates that Jauron isn't so popular outside the walls of One Bills Drive. The team's 14-18 record and extremely low offensive and defensive rankings indicate that this sentiment shouldn't be surprising; there is more to Jauron's tenure, however, that resonates louder than statistics.
Anti-Jauron Sentiment Prevalent
Looking for leaders of the bandwagon pulling for Jauron's tenure to end in Buffalo? Look no further than Connor Byrne. The head Bills poobah at RealFootball365.com, no less than four times this week alone, threw Jauron under the bus. How many times can one man write the same article?
From the first article, "Bills should venture outward for new GM":
From the second article, "Levy's short stint restored goodwill between Bills, fans":
From the third article, "Bills should follow rival Miami's lead":
Of course, Jauron is still employed by the Bills, and there isn't exactly a guarantee he'll be out of Buffalo in time for the 2008 season. After all, Levy -- who hired Jauron in '06 -- is going to be helping the Bills in their search for his successor, which leads some to think the team will promote from within to find its new G.M. If that happens, it would probably mean the retainment of Jauron.
No kidding, Connor. Don't expect that to change even if the club hires from a different organization. And finally, from the fourth article, "Despite Levy's best efforts, Bills still far from contention" (if you're real interested, the entire article is essentially a bash session of Jauron):
Assuming Jauron, whose career record is a morbid 50-67, stays aboard, the future also doesn't seem that bright for Buffalo.
Byrne isn't alone - he's not even close - but he's certainly been the most vocal (and repetitive) voice of this group of fans. The opinion isn't necessarily wrong - the Bills' best interests are at the center of any opinion, whether you or I agree with it or not - but in the end, are these dissenting opinions going to matter at all? Probably not - even though Wilson says that Jauron's fate rests with the new GM, the likelihood of Jauron not being with the Bills next season is remote. (And furthermore, what was Wilson supposed to say? "Oh, sure, we'll hire a GM as long as he doesn't come in here with opinions." There is the possibility, folks, that the Bills will hire a GM from outside the organization who they feel will mesh with Jauron. A very good possibility, at that.)
Here's What We Know
The other side of the coin - of which I'd like to nominate myself as a candidate for one ringleader position - is that Jauron is going to be the face of this franchise for the immediate future, and that's not a bad thing. Byrne made the point in his article (let's face it, they're all about the same thing) this week that the Bills, at 14-18 under Jauron, are no better than they were under the 14-18 Mike Mularkey as head coach. That's ludicrous.
There is little debate that the 2007 version of the Bills roster was the least talented one they've had in a long time - and that was before 17 players were placed on IR. The roster was, in fact, far less talented than the ones Mularkey directed in 2004 and 2005. Even with that lack of talent, Jauron - and Levy is included here as well - were able to bring two things to the franchise: stability and consistency. There's a program in place in Orchard Park, folks - that hasn't happened since Levy himself coached this team. There is, finally, a place to build - rather than haphazardly throwing together what looks like a talented roster, the Bills have done things correctly for the last two years; namely, they've built a foundation based on character, found a team identity, and can add talent - not names - from there.
Case in point: the duo of Tom Donahoe and Mike Mularkey orchestrated a 14-18 record from teams that finished 2004 ranked #25 and #2 (offense and defense, respectively) and #28 and #29 in 2005 (offense and defense, respectively). Those Bills teams were in a constant state of flux - especially at quarterback, where Mularkey was just as likely to switch quarterbacks mid-game as he was to relieve his bladder afterwards - and marred by inconsistency. Jauron's club, however, has eked out successive 7-9 records (mediocre, but consistent) despite 2006 rankings of #30 and #18 (O and D, respectively) and #30 and #31 (O and D, respectively). Even with, by all accounts, really crappy teams, Jauron has stuck to his guns at QB, built a program and a character-laden team, and found consistency. It's mediocre now, but what's to stop that consistency from becoming winning consistency in the near future?
The Bottom Line
Dick Jauron isn't going anywhere. He's already shown a willingness to make significant offensive changes - a must-do, since the Bills haven't had a good offense since 2002 - and the new GM, wherever he comes from, will improve the roster. (How can he not? The Bills have roughly $30 million in spending money and 10 draft picks this season.) He's already committed to a quarterback (Trent Edwards), and committed to the franchise. There is no reason to think that Jauron can't coach the Bills to a playoff berth in 2008, and even less reason to think that he'll be gone when a new GM is brought in. Even so, 2008 is shaping up to be a make-or-break season for Jauron. Without significant improvement next season, the court of public opinion may swing too far for the Bills to stand pat further.