Michael Lombardi, formerly of the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns, and now part of the staff at The Ringer, has detailed why the Buffalo Bills firing Doug Whaley should come as no surprise in his latest column. He dives into the timing of the firing, why Whaley and McDermott were never going to work, and how this is a good thing for Bills fans.
Many fans were confused by the timing of the firings of both Doug Whaley and the entire scouting department. The thinking was if they were going to get fired right after the draft, then why should they be involved in the draft? Lombardi explains why Whaley was kept around through the draft.
Whaley had a vast amount of valuable information at his fingertips. Why pay everyone and then let them share your secrets around the NFL? Unless, of course, you’re the team in our nation’s capital, which operates differently. When Washington fired GM Scot McCloughan in early March, the team knew he would help other teams with his draft knowledge. They didn’t care. A typical Dan Snyder move.
In summary: there was no reason to let him go and allow him to share confidential information around the league.
Whaley and McDermott: The Odd Couple
The real meat of Lombardi’s article explains why Doug Whaley and Sean McDermott did not work out. The crux of his argument is this:
Whaley was all about scouting players; McDermott is about building a team. Scouts don’t always know how to build teams. They know only how to pick players. And a scout focused primarily on scouting players can succeed only in a fantasy draft.
Lombardi argues that there was a philosophical difference between Whaley and McDermott, and it was an irreconcilable one. A head coach and a GM that do not agree cannot work because, as Lombardi puts it earlier, “the best thing a GM can do is work behind the scenes to help the coach win.”
Some were calling the Bills dysfunctional and a dumpster fire because of the firings. Lombardi believes it's the opposite, actually, and the Bills are moving away from their dysfunctional past.
Buffalo hasn’t had the alignment needed to compete at the highest level for 15 miserable years, in part because former owner Ralph Wilson loved the traditional approach: coaches coach, scouts scout. The front office drafted the players and controlled the roster, and the coaches coached the team. It’s a baseball-ish management structure. And it might work in baseball. But not in football, as Bills fans have painfully come to realize. The Pegulas have, too.
This arrangement is not what Lombardi argues is needed to succeed in the NFL. His experience in New England and what he knows of other organizations is what teams need in order to win.
In football, a successful partnership between the head coach and GM starts with a philosophical connection. I was a more effective personnel man working for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick; we share the same vision for what it takes to win in the NFL.
The cohesiveness between coach and GM is vital to an organization. Pete Carroll found it with John Schneider in Seattle, Ted Thompson found it with Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, and the Steelers have always had it with whoever is their GM — in this case, Kevin Colbert — and their head coach, Mike Tomlin.
Lombardi believes that the only way for the Bills to be successful is to find a GM that is philosophically aligned with McDermott and can help him build a team. This seems to be what the Bills are doing.