The Buffalo Bills are 1-4. They've lost three consecutive games - two straight against teams that played Buffalo sans previous victory. Nothing - seriously, absolutely nothing - has gone right for this team in the past three weeks. Calls for change - in the front office, in the coaching staff, in player personnel - will almost certainly be rewarded come season's end, if not sooner.
The Bills as a franchise have not been this low since the 5-11 2005 season - the year prior to Dick Jauron's arrival in Buffalo. Or perhaps 2001 is better, when Buffalo finished 3-13 in Gregg Williams' first season as head coach. How about 2000, when, in Wade Phillips' last season, the Bills finished 8-8, starting a streak of ten full years in which the Bills did not make the playoffs? Yes, I'm counting this year's Bills in that group, but I'd hardly consider that going out on a ledge.
I'm not sure I'd call the current state of the organization "rock bottom," but it's close. Fans are ready to move on. You'd have to imagine that Ralph Wilson is getting to that point quickly, as well. What do we watch for, however, in a lost season when there are still a whopping 11 games to play? Head on in past the jump for Buffalo Rumblings' Survival Guide.
Keys to surviving a nearly-worthless NFL season
Step 1: Understand what's needed
This one isn't particularly difficult. Change is needed. Duh. But the key is not change; the key is where change is made. Right now, calls are for Jauron's head, but in my opinion, Bills fans are focusing on the wrong issue here.
Buffalo's on track to miss the playoffs for a tenth straight year. Jauron's only been here for four of those. Add in Tom Donahoe's five-year run as Buffalo's General Manager - and let's not forget that his college and pro personnel men still reside in this front office - and that's nine of ten years. The Bills' biggest current problem is not coaching - though clearly, it is a problem. Where Buffalo has severely lacked for a decade is vision in the front office.
Wilson's front office structure - and if you have other descriptive words to apply to it, by all means, use them - is completely unique, and rather bizarre. Wilson has surrounded himself with advisers - who may or may not be on the team's payroll - and they're clearly giving him faulty advice. Rather than give one man say in the front office, he's taken the word "consensus" to unprecedented levels and given nobody a real voice. Russ Brandon, Jim Overdorf, Jauron, Tom Modrak, John Guy - all have input, none of them have enough power to make tough decisions correctly.
One man - and when I say one man, I'm specifically referring to nearly every big-name head coach that is so frequently referred to in these parts - is not going to fix this team. Only Ralph Wilson can do that, and the only way he can start is by finally, mercifully realizing that continuity is no longer anywhere close to the right answer for this organization. The team needs to get younger, more talented and more energetic from the top down. Ralph, we, the fans of your organization, are on our knees, begging you to bring in a football mind - and yes, we mean a General Manager - from outside the organization. Hire him and let him work. That's the only way it's going to get better, Mr. Wilson, sir.
GMs create cultures. They hire people (read: scouts and coaches) who fit that culture. Buffalo needs a culture - any culture that doesn't involve, well, losing. Good GMs find the right players to fit the culture, too. The Inner Circle approach doesn't work not because the individuals aren't deserving of their posts (which I realize in this case is highly debatable), but because it dilutes culture and promotes diverging philosophies. One philosophy. One voice. One culture. Make it happen, Ralph. As early in January 2010 as possible, if you would be so kind.
Step 2: Understand what isn't needed
Yes - I'm talking about firing Dick Jauron, folks. It doesn't need to happen right now. Yes, it needs to - and almost certainly will - happen at some point, so hang onto that, because it's not likely, nor does it need to happen anytime soon.
Last season, three head coaches were fired during the season. We're not even going to count Oakland in this discussion, because Al Davis is out of his mind, and the only reason he fired Lane Kiffin was because he no longer liked him. If he fired coaches based on performance, Tom Cable would be gone, too. St. Louis and San Francisco, however, are relevant here, so we'll pursue those two examples.
St. Louis fired Scott Linehan last season after an 0-4 start. Jim Haslett - who had previous head coaching experience and had taken New Orleans to the playoffs - was promoted. The Rams won Haslett's first two games as interim coach. Then they lost 10 in a row, and have since added five more under new head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
San Francisco, meanwhile, fired Mike Nolan after a 2-5 start. Mike Singletary was promoted. He did not have previous head coaching experience, but had, however, been considered for several coaching posts league-wide and was widely considered an up-and-comer in his profession. The 49ers closed the '08 season with a 5-4 record under Singletary, and he's now 3-2 with them this year, despite the team lacking overall talent, particularly at quarterback.
Buffalo does not have a Jim Haslett or a Mike Singletary on their coaching staff. They have some guys similar to Tom Cable if you're interested, though! Change to placate the fan base won't be productive to the players or the organization long-term because the Bills have no assistant coach who presents the possibility of being a long-term answer. And seriously - forget about an outside hire mid-season, because it just isn't happening. Swallow your pride and put on your patience hats, folks. Change is coming. It doesn't serve anything more than a superficial purpose to make it happen right away. Understand that the real, productive change can, and hopefully will, happen after the season.
Step 3: Put every Bills player at square one in your minds
Bills fans aren't stupid. We know where the team's weaknesses are. While we wait for the inevitable changes that, if done right, could save our franchise, we need to pay particular attention to the players currently on Buffalo's roster - because even when the big changes happen, a lot of these current Bills will still be around next season.
Every player - quarterbacks through long snappers - is on the bubble now. (Yes, contracts have a role to play here, but we're speaking in generalities for now.) Buffalo has a lot of young players. They have a lot of veterans. Starting right now, every single player needs to be evaluated by us, completely objectively, as worthy or unworthy of sticking with this team beyond 2009. That's close to how any new head coach will approach it, too - that coach, whoever he ends up being, will be going to war with a large number of these players in 2010. The players have hit rock bottom. The new regime will want to go to war with players who improved and played consistently and with high effort after hitting rock bottom. That evaluation starts right now - for everyone.
Step 4: Watch, and root for, other NFL teams
I'm not saying "go be a fan of another NFL team," because that is blasphemous to the extreme, and if it's not completely illegal, it should be. But no matter how bad your favorite team (in this case, the Bills) is, watching NFL football and admiring other teams is not only fun, but completely worthwhile to a fan base such as ours.
Watch teams that play the game the way you like to see it get played. Notice how the good teams have an identity, have a philosophy, and have players and coaches that preach and practice the philosophy. Watch telecasts - as brutal as that can be - for discussions on hot assistant coaches. Watch players play. Enjoy football.
We're not watching to be jealous, though jealousy will certainly be a byproduct. We're watching so that we understand what Buffalo needs to strive for. We're watching to scout for coaching and front office candidates (though I'm sure many of you, like I, have already-formulated opinions on that front). We're watching football to enjoy football, and we're watching to bring productive opinions and sound philosophies to the table. Think of it as studying for the final exam - an exam where there are no right answers, just sound theories. Buffalo will be taking that exam next January. Study up, folks - we'll need to do some immediate grading. We know what the Bills need to be, and watching more football will not only lead to interesting future-oriented discussions, but case studies and teams/coaching styles/philosophies to emulate.
But most of all, watch it to get the taste of Bills football out of your mouth. Watch it to cleanse your football soul.
Step 5: Keep watching the Bills
I'm not suggesting torturing yourself. If, during the course of a game, you need to leave the room and partake in an adult beverage and/or add a hole to your dining room wall, by all means, do so. But don't stop watching the Bills, even if it's painful. I don't blame the sentiment, but there are lessons to be learned and facts to be gleaned by watching a terrible football team play out the string.
This is a survival guide. Yes - part of our survival guide is telling you to keep watching the thing that is driving you insane. Watch, however, with the first four bullet points in mind, and getting through Bills games should be a cake walk. (Should be a cake walk for our opponents, too - everyone gets cake! Except the Bills.) You'll get aggravated, yes, but watching bad football with an understanding of what needs to change and when will not only further drive home that notion, but it'll allow you to watch more objectively as we move forward with the organization. Plus, cake! Wait, was there ever cake? If not, well, that's something that's in your control to fix.
Lastly, I would never come close to telling anyone how to spend their own money, but if you have tickets to the games already and the weather for said games ends up being reasonable, go watch the team at The Ralph. We're beyond the point where the fan base is split in its opinions; rarely has a single fan base been so unified in its desire to see the hammer drop early and often. Going to games where you're in agreement with the fans in the stands makes things a little more tolerable, and it reaches the realm of acceptable if you're at a good tailgate party. You're not supporting the team if you're booing them, and you've already bought the ticket - and let's face it, you ain't selling that thing. Make the best of the situation. Eat and drink hearty, support them from the stands however you wish, and keep those first four points in mind. There's still little else like tailgating at The Ralph. That experience stays enjoyable no matter how well the team is performing.
That's it. Your survival guide to watching the 2009 Buffalo Bills. Buffalo Rumblings is not responsible for any injuries or fatalities, but we think this'll help get you through the next 12 weeks.