I’m in the minority of people who believe, strictly from an on-field standpoint, Doug Whaley has done an admirable job building the Buffalo Bills into a playoff-caliber team.
And, really, when you think about it, if just about everyone agrees that Rex Ryan’s over-complexity of a previous elite defense, brutal in-game gaffes, questionable-at-best challenges, and peculiar fourth-down decisions among other things provided more than enough justification for him to be fired, then how much blame does Whaley deserve for Buffalo’s recent failures to make the playoffs?
If you believe Rex was utterly incompetent and Whaley is a horrid GM, then how have the Bills managed to play (basically) .500 football over the past two seasons and stay in the playoff hunt until Week 15 or later each year?
To me, a disorganized, mismanaging head coach and clueless GM would equate to a much worse overall record.
Whaley, who certainly deserves some blame for Buffalo recently missing the playoffs, in my mind, has become the most fascinating member of the Bills’ front office, as he’s been retained despite Rex getting fired.
And I think I know why he’s still the Bills’ GM.
Here’s what the team’s official Twitter account sent out right after the firing of Rex (and Rob) Ryan.
GM Doug Whaley will officially be leading the organization's head coaching search. pic.twitter.com/4NZV94XV8H— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) December 27, 2016
Ok. Sounds reasonable.
Well, not exactly.
"Whaley is leading the head-coach search" is the same verbiage used in reports two years ago.
However, during his most recent radio interview on WGR550, the day before the Christmas Eve loss to the Dolphins, Whaley was asked “when it comes to a decision on Rex or a coach, do you have a say? Is it Russ? Is it strictly owners?” and gave this answer:
“There's a process that we have in place, but the ultimate decision lies with ownership.”
Technically, in any business, every employee-related decision, comes down to ownership. But, I remember reading the final seven words of his answer and immediately thinking that the GM should have final say regarding basically everything football-centric, especially when deciding whether or not to fire the head coach. But that clearly wasn’t the case during the Rex era.
So, then, how “integral” was Whaley in the head-coach search in which the Bills picked Rex?
In an article posted on the Bills’ website today was this telling statement:
“The Bills general manager was part of the process two years ago and made his recommendations, but indication now is Whaley will take a lead role in the search for a new head coach.”
Those sentences sealed it for me.
The biggest factor in Whaley keeping his job was the simple fact that he wasn’t that important in the hiring of Rex.
Essentially, the Pegulas are taking the fall for the mistake of Rex, which was likely mainly their decision, and therefore, not canning Whaley for it.
There’s also the thought — which would indicate considerably more organizational toxicity — a friend suggested to me last night; the Pegulas realize they’d be lost performing a head-coach search by themselves and want a football guy they’re familiar with (Whaley) to go through the process with them... again.
That’s not crazy, but I do believe the Pegulas would simply hire an executive search firm like Korn Ferry, which is often used by NFL owners looking for a head coach or GM.
Regarding the search, WKBW’s Nick Filipowski resurfaced this video from Rex’s introductory press conference, which includes a pretty darn interesting look inside the Bills interview process in 2015:
Beyond that, we can’t forget the — now infamous — Russ Brandon line regarding the interview process with Rex that Terry Pegula offered up:
“‘Hey, let’s go after Rex.’ Russ told me, ‘Don’t let him out of the building.’”
If Whaley didn’t like Rex’s answers to the “nitty gritty questions” after the Pegulas (and Brandon) clearly wanted him, would he not have been hired? Doubtful. Highly doubtful.
This time around, Bills fans should hope the interview process will be flipped.
Call me crazy, but any head-coach candidate should first be interviewed by Whaley regarding everything football, because that’s more important than anything else. Let the football guys be in charge of, well, football.
If Whaley likes what he hears from [insert head-coach candidate], the second interview should then consist of a chat with the Pegulas featuring, as Terry mentioned, “broad-type questions.”
It may seem uncomfortable for NFL owners to concede “power” — but if they believe in Whaley enough to keep him as their team’s GM, then they must empower him to be the guy with the final say on who will be the next Bills’ head coach.