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Joe B: 7 takeaways from Bills GM Doug Whaley (1/2/17)

Posted at 7:31 PM, Jan 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-02 19:31:52-05

The Buffalo Bills 2016 season has come and gone… and it all ended with an exclamation point with general manager Doug Whaley’s press conference to end the year. And boy oh boy, it was sure was something.

This was the first time Whaley has spoken with the media since early November, only to discuss the signing of wide receiver Percy Harvin. Needless to say, a lot has happened between now and then — namely, the firing of head coach Rex Ryan.

It was a marathon of the press conference, so what were some of the highlights? In no particular order:

1) Whaley says he didn’t make the final call on Rex Ryan’s hiring or have a hand in his firing
- Doug Whaley started the press conference saying that 7-9 is an unacceptable record, and that “it starts with me,” only to go on to further confuse the masses as to what “it” actually entails. Whaley has earned a reputation of not being on the hook for some of the biggest decisions in recent memory: the decision to draft EJ Manuel in the first round, the hiring of Doug Marrone as head coach, and that the hiring of Rex Ryan as head coach was totally his call. After listening to him talk, he further reinforced those notions, and even threw in this caveat: he wasn’t a part of the decision to fire Rex Ryan, either. Like Anthony Lynn the week before on the decision to bench Tyrod Taylor, Whaley said that he wasn’t privy to the conversation had between Rex Ryan and Terry Pegula, and that he was merely informed of the new direction moving forward. So, the GM of the team, who the Bills themselves announced will ‘lead the search’ for the next head coach, wasn’t consulted in the firing of the last head coach. Whaley also said he hadn’t even thought about if firing Rex Ryan was the move. That’s concerning for one of two reasons. Either he’s lying about not thinking about it, or the GM of the team never once considered if a change in direction would be the right thing for the franchise. So the Bills want the masses to believe that he has the power, when he’s saying he doesn’t actually have the power — which seems to be the inherent problem with having both the head coach and GM answer directly to the owner, as opposed to having a clear chain of command that goes from owner, to GM, to head coach. Otherwise, will the GM ever truly have the power to be the actual GM of the team? It’s a bit baffling, and the only conclusion is that the owners of the team have to provide some sort of clarification. Even after 39 minutes of answers from the GM, we’re left with even more questions — and that can’t be a good feeling for Bills fans.

2) The Pegulas will pick the next head coach
- The Buffalo Bills will be heading in a new direction at head coach, and as the Bills announced, Whaley will be the one heading up the search — not Russ Brandon or the Pegulas. Whaley will set the table with all the different choices on what to have for dinner, so to speak. The only thing is, he doesn’t get to fill his plate. That decision — the decision as to who will be the next head coach of the Buffalo Bills - lies only with Terry and Kim Pegula. So even with all the presumed power that Whaley was said to be getting with this head coaching search, he ultimately yields that power to the owners — which is solely up to their discretion. However, that goes against the grain of what the normal practices around the league. Usually it’s the GM’s call to make the determination as to who will be the head coach of the team, as opposed to having someone picked for him and them trying to work with it. It appears that is what we’re led to believe happened with Rex Ryan. Now, it could be the case that Whaley and the Pegulas reach the same conclusion out of the pool of candidates as to who should be the next head coach, but not giving the GM the ultimate final say can potentially create an environment in which decisions are just being made to do whatever it takes to make the ownership happy, as opposed to doing what he ultimately would think is best for turning it all around. This fact doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but again, it’s something that should certainly be noted.

3) That head coach will report back to the Pegulas, not Whaley
- When asked about what power he has as GM of the team, Whaley slipped a bit here and revealed that the head coach of the team does not answer to him, but rather, Terry and Kim Pegula. That structure is one that goes back to the chain of command point. As owners of the team, now rather than having a clear line from owners, to front office, to coaches, its muddied once again. That’s the way it was with Doug Marrone and Whaley, that’s the way it was with Rex Ryan and Whaley, and once again it appears that’s the way it will be done with the new head coach of the team. It is imperative that the head coach and the general manager be on the same page, because if they’re otherwise jockeying for position, that does not yield a healthy work environment. It all has to work as one, and if the coach doesn’t answer to Whaley, then it has the potential to create drama, as it has been reported to have happened with the last two head coaches in Buffalo.

4) He’s not concerned with his reputation with head coaches in league circles
- As for those relationships with Marrone and Ryan that reportedly deteriorated the way that they did, Whaley was asked about being worried that his reputation around the league for getting along with coaches wasn’t sterling. Whaley believes that his reputation around the league is fine, and that he has “full confidence” in that not being an issue moving forward in his search for a new head coach. When deciding on a place to coach for some of these candidates, they’ll draw on thoughts from coaches who have had past dealings with members of the front office and ownership to try and get a better idea if it’s the right fit for them. Really, that’s what Whaley would have to worry about if there was validity to him not getting along with the last two coaches that roamed the sidelines in Orchard Park. As long as that reputation is fine with those coaches, he has nothing to worry about in that respect.

5) It will be an “open search” for a new head coach
- As a few reports have surfaced that interim head coach Anthony Lynn is one of the strongest candidates for the permanent position, the Bills certainly didn’t subscribe to that theory as of Monday. Lynn is someone that the Bills will likely look at, but Whaley will not end the discussion at just him. He called the upcoming quest for a new head coach an “open search.”

“I’m leading the search, Whaley went on to say. “It will be an open search and I can understand why people would connect the dots because he is a familiar face.”

The Bills have already been tied to a few candidates in various reports, including Lynn, Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott (NFL.com), Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph (NFL.com), and Philadelphia offensive coordinator Frank Reich (The Buffalo News). With five other openings around the NFL, the Bills will likely need to strike quickly to ensure that they get the guy that they want, and hope that he wants them back.

6) Rex Ryan, not Doug Whaley, recommended interim HC Anthony Lynn
- When it all came down to the firing of Rex Ryan nearly a week ago, the overwhelming sentiment was that Whaley had a hand in all of it — when in actuality, at least according to both the GM and Terry Pegula in an interview with The Associated Press, that the owner was the one to make the call on letting Rex Ryan go. It was also, apparently, Pegula’s decision to put Anthony Lynn as the interim head coach after a recommendation from the then fired head coach Rex Ryan. Whaley once more heard about the firing after the fact, and that Lynn would be the interim head coach after the fact.

7) Whaley takes responsibility for all contract language
- Over the past year, the Bills have taken some heat for putting language into contracts signed by players that would put them on the hook for money in circumstances that most teams would not sign up for. The two glaring examples are that of Marcell Dareus still maintaining all his guaranteed money even after getting suspended by the league once again, and with the Tyrod Taylor ~$30 million guaranteed injury clause in his contract. When pressed on the matter, Whaley admitted to being the one responsible for all the language that goes into the contract that each individual player signs — even if it doesn’t all add up. However, the GM has taken responsibility for that side of things — an action that has certainly led to some frustration for Bills fans.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia