December 31: Former Bills head coach St. Doug Marrone opts out of his contract. The Bills have had two winning seasons since 2000, and both of the coaches who helmed those teams quit after two years on the job. The other, Mike Mularkey, was Marrone’s opponent for his first game as the Jaguars interim head coach on Saturday (the Jags beat Mularkey’s Titans, 38-17).
January 11: After a coaching search that included about a dozen names (including two, Adam Gase and Dan Quinn, who will be coaching in the 2016 postseason), the Bills settle on Rex Ryan as the 17th head coach in team history (not counting Perry Fewell’s stint as an interim in 2009). Later in the day, it’s also reported that former 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman will be joining him in the same role with the Bills.
January 13: Remember the pizza?
January 14: In his now-legendary introductory press conference, Ryan famously puts his cards on the table, saying:
- “I know it’s been 15 years since the Bills made the playoffs. Well get ready, man. We’re going. We are going.” (they didn’t)
- “I’m not going to let our fans down. I’m not going to do that.” (he did)
- “I know we’ll lead the league in defense.” (they didn’t)
This was also when he dropped the infamous “build a bully” line, one that seemed strange then but makes sense now for all the wrong reasons.
February 7: Right on cue, the Bills sign troubled offensive guard Richie Incognito, who had been out of football for a year and a half after a series of incidents involving now-retired former teammate Jonathan Martin. As you can imagine, the “build a bully” mantra received a lot of airtime.
February 26: Coming soon, to a used car lot near you:
March 3: In a blockbuster trade, the Bills acquire former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy in exchange for young linebacker Kiko Alonso. I’m going to try to keep personnel moves out of this, because Rex wasn’t the GM, but this one is worth mentioning because of a report that trading Alonso was among the first things Rex wanted the front office to do when he came into town. He probably didn’t specifically push for Shady, but the fact remains that McCoy has been the best Bills player over the last two seasons by a wide margin. Whether directly or indirectly, Rex had a hand in bringing him into the fold.
March 12: In another personnel move driven by Rex, the Bills sign an unheralded free agent quarterback named Tyrod Taylor to a three-year (eventually shortened to two-year) deal.
Again, Rex didn’t negotiate the deal, but his interest in Taylor was well-known around the league, dating back to his time with the Jets. Given his hiring of Roman and preference for Taylor, it’s fair to say that even though Ryan is a defensive coach, the offense bore his signature. He wasn’t calling the plays, but the guys who did and the tools they have certainly had a throwback look about them.
June 15: Driven by the excitement surrounding Ryan, the Bills set a team record for season ticket sales. The hype machine was running at peak efficiency.
July 31: Rex opens his first training camp with the Bills. The major story line throughout the month is the three-way battle for the starting quarterback job between Taylor, EJ Manuel, and Matt Cassel. Also, in a development worthy of the Rex Ryan “build a bully” mantra, assistant OL coach Kurt Anderson assumes control of OL coaching duties when Aaron Kromer is suspended after being arrested for battery.
August 12: Without even letting him clear waivers, the Bills claim former Jets linebacker IK Enempkali less than a day after his (and Rex’s) old team cut him for breaking their quarterback’s jaw. Again, the “build a bully” theme is front and center in Buffalo.
August 14: Over six hundred words into the timeline, and I finally come to an actual football game. Rex makes his debut on the sidelines of Ralph Wilson Stadium in a 25-24 loss to the Panthers. The close loss is a theme throughout the Rex Ryan Era: eleven of the team’s 16 losses are decided by eight points or less.
August 31: After several impressive preseason performances, Rex officially hitches his wagon to Tyrod Taylor by naming him the team’s starting quarterback. Cassel is cut, then re-signed, and eventually traded to Dallas, while Manuel remains on the bench for the next two years aside from the occasional hard count and two poor showings when Taylor is out with an injury.
September 13: The curtain officially goes up on Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills as they open the season with a 27-14 trouncing of a preseason Super Bowl contender in the Indianapolis Colts. Ryan becomes the first Bills head coach to win his first game with the team since Hall of Famer Marv Levy’s Bills beat the Steelers 16-12 in Week 10 of the 1986 season (after Levy replaced the fired Hank Bullough).
September 20: The Bills fall to the Patriots, 40-32. The Bills committed 14 penalties in the game; they did so three times under Ryan, more than any team in the last two seasons aside from the Raiders (5). Patriots QB Tom Brady throws for 466 yards, the most a Rex Ryan-led defense ever gave up.
October 19: The Bills’ highest-paid defender, defensive end Mario Williams, very publicly criticizes Ryan’s game-planning. Williams was released at the end of the season after seemingly giving up on putting forth a top-level effort; say what you will about Rex, at least he didn’t quit.
November 12: In an emotional, gif-worthy game, the Bills beat Rex’s old Jets squad, 22-17, on Thursday Night Football. The Bills went ahead big early on, and held off a late comeback attempt from Ryan Fitzpatrick to secure the win to go to 5-4 on the season.
January 3: Three fourth-quarter interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick gave the Bills a season-ending 22-17 win over the Jets, keeping the Jets out of the playoffs while bringing the Bills to 8-8. It’s the first time during the drought that the Bills go two straight years without a losing record.
January 5: Bills owner Terry Pegula reportedly issues an ultimatum to Ryan and GM Doug Whaley, saying both men will lose their jobs if the Bills fail to reach to playoffs in 2016. Considering reports that Whaley is going to stick around to find the next head coach, we’ll count that as a half-truth.
January 10: Rex brings aboard his twin brother, Rob (who was also fired), as an assistant head coach. Rob had been fired in the middle of the 2015 season as the defensive coordinator of the Saints; considering their troubles in 2016, he probably wasn’t the biggest issue there. That said, he didn’t really add a whole lot in Buffalo.
January 13: Rex brought aboard future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed, who played under him with the Ravens and Jets, as an assistant coach. It was good for a few stories and some photo ops, but we didn’t hear much about his impact once the season kicked off.
January 20: In another addition to the staff, Ryan hired Kathryn Smith as the first full-time female coach in NFL history. As was the case with Reed, her story brought a lot of headlines, but once the games started she faded into the background.
February 24: Another one from the Rex Ryan Quote Machine: When noting how he tried to meld his defense with concepts from the Jim Schwartz-led defense of 2014, Rex called the 2015 Bills’ D “half-pregnant”. I’m just going to leave that one alone.
April 28-29: The Bills select Clemson DE Shaq Lawson in the first round of the NFL Draft, and follow that up by trading up in the second round for Alabama MLB Reggie Ragland. Again, Rex wasn’t in the draft room, but both players bear the hallmarks of what he looks for in defenders. Of course, both players are injured before the preseason even kicks off, and Ragland sits for the year while Lawson doesn’t see the field until mid-October.
Ragland’s replacement, Zach Brown, should finish in the top five in the league in tackles. Lawson’s replacement, Lorenzo Alexander, earned a Pro Bowl nod after recording 11.5 sacks through 15 games. Go figure.
August 5: The Rex Ryan Quote Machine offers up a doozy, especially in hindsight. In speaking about free-agent signee Reggie “minus-three yards on 12 carries” Bush, Rex envisioned using him “like a Ferrari”. Considering that an ill-timed reverse to Bush in overtime played a big role in the Bills’ loss (and, subsequently, Rex’s firing), one can only wonder what kind of Ferrari Rex was talking about.
August 13: Rex’s second and final season with the Bills kicks off with another one-point loss to open the preseason, this time to the Colts. Ryan favorite IK Enempkali, who seemed to be positioning himself for the role that Lorenzo Alexander would eventually fill, was lost for the season with a knee injury.
September 11: The Bills lose the regular season opener in Baltimore, 13-7. It would be one of four times the Bills held their opponent to 14 points or less. They currently rank 15th in scoring defense and 19th in yardage allowed, for what that’s worth.
September 15: On Thursday Night Football, the Bills’ D allows Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for 374 yards in a 37-31 loss to the Jets, dropping them to 0-2.
September 16: Rex responds to a horrendous performance by his trademark defense by sacking his offensive coordinator and promoting running backs coach Anthony Lynn, who will serve as the interim head coach in the final game of the 2017 season. The move triggers a four-game win streak that is still impressive, yet came against three teams who won’t be in the 2016 playoffs and one who started their third-string quarterback.
September 25: The Bills’ first win of the season comes with an apparent wrinkle: Ryan relinquished defensive play-calling duties to defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. This arrangement apparently continued for some time, but may have stopped, if Rex’s post-game comments from the loss to the Steelers are to be believed.
October 23: Bills owner Terry Pegula again vouches for Rex’s job security, citing the desire for “continuity”.
December 11: After a loss to the Raiders dropped the Bills to 6-6, reports begin coming in that Ryan may be on the outs in Buffalo after all. The Bills are still hanging by a tread in the playoff race, desperately needing a win at home against the Steelers.
December 12: The Bills fall to the Steelers, 27-20. The defense picks off Ben Roethlisberger three times, but allows LeVeon Bell to amass an incredible 298 yards from scrimmage. In his post-game press conference, Rex throws himself under the bus by saying that he called plays the team hadn’t practiced to “stop the bleeding”.
The writing was on the wall, and finding a new coach is something that Doug Whaley has practiced.
December 24: In Rex Ryan’s final game with the Bills, Jay Ajayi ran for 200 yards on his defense for the second time in 2016, 57 of which came on a play where only 10 defenders were on the field, and the Bills lost to the Dolphins 34-31 in overtime. Several factors went against Rex that were out of his hands, but the decision to punt with only four minutes left and the need for a win to stay alive sealed his fate.
The loss ensured the Bills would be out of the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season.
December 27: The Buffalo Bills relieve Rex Ryan of his duties as head coach. Offensive coordinator (and potential replacement) Anthony Lynn will lead the team into their final game against Rex’s other former squad, the Jets.