As I listened to Tuesday’s press conference via streaming audio on the Internet my phone began to alert me to incoming messages. The messages were from the Bills, and by the looks of it were from the same people responsible for holding yet another press conference with a small, lonely podium and audio that sounded like it was being broadcast live from a tin can at the bottom of Lake Erie:
1 of 2: Chan Gailey has been officially announced as the Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills. Watch live on Buffalobills.
2 of 2: com. TXT STOP 2 quit
"TXT STOP 2 quit" - oh, if only it were that easy to walk away from the Buffalo Bills. I truly wanted to send that simple 1-word text message and erase the pain of being a Bills fan for the past 10 years. If only I could use my cell phone to regain a decade of Sundays past, my sanity, my pride, and my soul.
Alas, the problems with the Bills and the dysfunctional relations we as fans have with the team go far deeper than any text message can cure. Tuesday’s announcement could and should have been a turning point for the organization and its fans but it is nothing more than the same old same old.
In a way, Tuesday’s absence of an organizational turning point was a turning point for me personally. I had held out hope the Bills would eventually realize that what they have been doing simply isn’t working and take steps to address it. After Tuesday’s event I am now firmly convinced that, short of getting lucky, the Bills are not going to be successful in the short term, or quite frankly, ever.
It’s easy to write off Ralph Wilson as cheap and say that he doesn’t want to win. Time and again I’ve heard fans and the media say that his affinity for being a tightwad and refusing to spend is the root of the Bills problems. I’ve never agreed with that position, and I still don’t today. I believe Ralph Wilson DOES want to win – if he didn’t I think he would have sold the team and cashed out a long time ago. He’s done right by WNY to keep the team in the area when he doubtless had plenty of opportunity to move it elsewhere for deals that would benefit him better personally. He knows what this team means to the region and hasn’t taken the Art Model gravy train out of town.
That isn’t to say that Ralph Wilson isn’t the root of the problem – I think he is. But it’s not Wilson’s purse strings that are the problem – it’s his age and complete and utter aversion to change that have left the Bills a dead organization and subject to ridicule by the rest of the league.
I’ve been holding out hope that as things went from bad to worse to just plain farcical the Bills as an organization would hit rock bottom. When they did, the only path to redemption would be to blow it up and begin building anew.
Although he’s 91, Wilson led me to believe he was not living in a fantasy world existing in Detroit and the owner’s box at the stadium which bears his name. After the 2008 season he exclaimed that the Bills couldn’t compete because they lacked talent on the team – fans were exited to think that the organization would take steps to bring in talent, but yet again their player acquisitions where underwhelming.
By firing Dick Jauron and promising a complete top-to-bottom-no-job-is-safe review of the organization I had hope that this was the precursor to the demolition and rebirth I had been waiting for, but didn’t happen and isn’t going to happen, even as the Bills sink to even greater depths.
It’s been really hard being a Bills fan, and I’ll admit that I’m the most optimistic person you’d ever want to meet. Much of what I have written here in the past decade has been negative, but given the subject matter I’ve found very little to be excited about. Fans have blasted me for my negativity and questioned my love for the team, but I truly believe that the Bills have been in a death spiral of decline and taking its fans on a nightmarish ride in the process. Unless Ralph Wilson loses his mental capabilities and starts ordering that first round picks be spent on kickers, I’m not sure how much lower the organization can fall.
With an opportunity to turn the organization around and finally put a football guy in place as a General Manager, the Bills showed just how conservative and myopic the owner and organization are. Somehow failing to understand that the current Bills mess can be placed squarely at the feet of the front office personnel who have been in place as the Bills became a laughingstock, the front office is precisely where they looked to find the change that they so desperately needed. They interviewed exactly two people for the cornerstone of the new organization, and both were part of the existing organization. They tapped Buddy Nix who may or may not turn out to be a good hire but he was the safe pick – a Wilson man through and through (and old enough to purchase a home in the Sunny Acres Senior Living Community next to Ralph, to boot).
Really? That’s change? Only the Bills could call this little switcheroo “change” – it’s certainly one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of the phrase, “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”.
OK, Nix has some good things on his resume from San Diego and because he had been with the Bills for only a year prior to his promotion he wasn’t as firmly entrenched as an architect of disaster as some others, but who in the world speaks of big change and doesn’t even bother to talk with anyone outside the organization? I guess The Who was right when they sang “Meet the new boss – same as the old boss”.
To me the selection of Nix was crushing, not because I hate Nix or feel that he couldn’t become a decent General Manager, but because it proved that the Bills just didn’t get it – either they don’t know or don’t care what “change” means. It also meant that we would not have a General Manager in place that was going to be a strong figure and would pull the Bills out of mediocrity kicking and screaming, owner be damned. Does anyone believe Nix has the persona, power or credibility to get Ralph Wilson to do anything he doesn’t want to do, even if it’s for the good of the organization as a whole?
So organic change would not come to the Bills via its new General Manager, but there was still hope that perhaps it could come from a head coach acquisition. While I strongly doubted that the Bills would somehow be able to get a Mike Shanahan or a Bill Cowher to come in and effectuate change, there was a little glimmer of hope that it might happen. That hope never died, even as the media reported that the number of people not wanting the job outnumbered those who did. In my wildest dreams I held out hope that someone, anyone would realize that change had not come to the Bills and that this was their last chance to bring it to Buffalo and make Bill Cowher an offer he couldn’t refuse. At 2pm on Tuesday that hope died, and I realized that now only luck could save the Buffalo Bills.
So the Bills announced the hiring of Chan Gailey as the new head coach. Before more assistant coaches could turn them down, before more negative press could come out, before the fans had to endure another week of wondering why the Bills couldn’t fill their coaching vacancy when the other NFL jobs seemed to be filled within days, the Bills put an end to the process. Gailey met the criteria – former head coach, offensive-minded, someone without the resume or persona to take over the organization, and an older gentleman who can play bridge with the other Bills insiders at One Bills Drive on Friday nights. I had to laugh when Gailey was asked at the press conference whether his health was good enough to take the stressful job of being a head coach in Buffalo – only the Bills hire coaches old enough so that personal fitness level is a concern.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t hate Buddy Nix and I am hopeful that he can be a decent General Manager. Likewise, I don’t hate the selection of Chan Gailey as head coach and also hope that he can be successful. I’ll certainly root for both of these guys as I think all Bills fans should – if they are successful we’ll get what we want – wins and the elusive happiness that comes with being a fan of a winning team. But I deeply hate what the selection of these men mean about the organization and its ability to change now, or ever. If the Bills were one of your friends they’d be your buddy Mike who still sports the mullet and Zubaz – oblivious to how ridiculous he looks today because he refuses to change what worked for him in 1991.
I also deeply hate that the personnel acquisitions will continue to flow through the likes of Tom Modrak and many of the same folks in place for years. I’m so excited that 2010 might bring us the next Donte Whitner, Aaron Maybin, Langston Walker and Derrick Dockery I can barely stand it. I’m just dying to see how much money the Bills can tie up in guys who aren’t worth one tenth of what they’re being paid, and that seems to be a specialty of this front office. Removing John Guy is a step in the right direction, but if the Bills follow their current brand of “change” my bet for his replacement is on any 70+ year-old scout who has been on the payroll for years (are there any left who haven’t been promoted?). Even if Nix and Gailey could be halfway decent they certainly will be hampered in obtaining successful ingredients if the same old front office does the shopping and Buffalo remains an unattractive destination to those with other options.Unfortunately, I think the Bills are going to have to get lucky for Nix and Gailey to find success. The AFC East is a terribly tough division, and in both coaching and player personnel the Bills have far less firepower than their rivals. I hold out hope that the Bills can find the same success that they had when they promoted one of their scouts to General Manager in Bill Polian and hired an older gentleman with previous head coaching experience in Marv Levy, but what are the odds of catching lighting in a bottle again?
So here I sit, realizing that change, and likely success, are not coming to the Buffalo Bills. It’s a tough place to be because until Tuesday I did have some measure of hope deep down in my cynical soul. But the road ahead looks much like the road already traveled and there is no respite in sight. If this is an uncapped year you’re really going to see how outgunned and outclassed the Bills are in today’s NFL. It’s enough to make me want to pick up my phone and text STOP to 64621.