Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula have likely learned emotions must be put aside in order to find success in professional sports.
Just a hunch here, but I think they’re genuinely nice, down-to-Earth people who just happen to be — through many years of ultra-successful business moves — multi-billionaires.
They seemingly don’t have an aloof, sanctimonious demeanor often synonymous with the extremely wealthy, place a high value on personal relationships, and like the rest of us, can be sentimental.
It’s easy to suggest new ownership should automatically trigger a house-cleaning, but taking over a business and keeping some or all key members of the front office is likely what almost all of us would do. And it’s what the Pegulas did with the Bills.
We saw an almost identical scenario play out with the Sabres too. Terry, a long-time Sabres fan, bought the team in 2010 and kept everyone of importance in the hockey department from the previous regime. Then head coach Lindy Ruff was retained, as was GM Darcy Regier, who’d been in that role in Buffalo since 1997. Ruff was fired 17 games into the Pegulas second full season as Sabres owners. Regier was fired the following fall.
The next year, after assuming control of the Bills in October of 2014, the Pegulas were quickly welcomed to the cutthroat nature of the NFL industry. Leveraging a guaranteed $4 million opt-out clause contingent upon the passing of Ralph Wilson Jr. included in his 2013 contract with the Bills, head coach Doug Marrone chose to take the money and run. He left the organization after a 9-7 season less than three months into the Pegula era.
Bills GM Doug Whaley was a holdover from the Ralph Wilson Jr. era and had one season as the team’s GM when the Pegulas officially became owners in 2014. He seemed to immediately gain the trust of new ownership.
The Pegulas and Whaley hired Rex Ryan the following January.
But the overlap made it difficult to decipher how much power Whaley had. Rex was always going to overshadow the GM wherever he coached, and that certainly was the case in Buffalo.
We heard Richie Incognito was Rex’s first target upon becoming head coach in January. Then Tyrod Taylor’s signing was considered a Rex move after he told the media he and the Jets organization tried to trade for the quarterback the year before.
Former Jets Percy Harvin, John Conner, and IK Enemkpali were added before the 2015 season.
With all the bluster Rex routinely brought, the weekly headline-able quotes and brass confidence, Whaley was relegated to the background. As the Rex experiment started to fail, as he’s done throughout his coaching career, Rex fell hard and was awkwardly fired with a game go to in the 2016 season.
When Sean McDermott was hired in January of 2017, rumors were already flying about Whaley’s diminished status in the Bills power structure.
During his press conference on Whaley’s firing, Pegula said it was an “extremely tough decision” and called him a “good guy”. He even mentioned the tears shed by some at One Bills Drive when Whaley was let go.
Pegula also reminded everyone Whaley was a GM hired by the previous regime.
Remember, Whaley likely helped show the Pegulas ropes of the NFL by Whaley, and considering how long Whaley was kept, Terry and Kim would’ve been more than happy to win with a GM from the Wilson administration.
But now, to truly take accountability, the Pegulas, with the help of McDermott, will hire their first GM entering their third full season as Bills owners. It will mark the end of the their sentimental period.
This paragraph from Michael Holley’s Bill Belichick biography “War Room,” is apropos now:
“His first press conference was in the evening on January 27, 2000. The next morning he fired long-time strength coach who had four years left on his contract. When it came to one of his favorite topics, team-building, Belichick was likely unsentimental and blunt with his decision-making. It had been five years since his dismissal in Cleveland, and he’d spent much of that time growing as a coach and football thinker.”
Looking ahead to the Bills GM hire, this central question will be asked — what should a GM’s role be? Should he act as a clear superior to the head coach, releasing and adding players based solely upon his preferences? In those cases, a “divide” between GM and head coach ultimately are reported. Or, should the GM make personnel moves mostly based on strong suggestions from the head coach? In that case reports would surfaced that the head coach has more power than the GM.
To me, the GM should be the one executing trades, signing free agents, and making draft choices after long, detailed discussions with the head coach and his coordinators to get their wish lists for the specific types of players they want on their roster.
That’s why it’d make perfect sense for the Pegulas to hire a GM whom McDermott knows well and trusts. It’d significantly minimize the potential of any future speculation of a split front office, and foster the continuation of “one voice” for the Bills.
With the franchise at a crossroads, the now battled-tested Pegulas will be fully ushering in their own era of Bills football with this essential GM hire.