Not even 24 hours after the 2017 NFL Draft had ended, the Buffalo Bills made the decision to relieve general manager Doug Whaley of his duties with the organization.
On Sunday morning, Terry Pegula met with the media to discuss the decision to fire Whaley, what led to it, and where they go from here.
Seven takeaways from the Pegula’s press conference:
1) Doug Whaley’s role in the 2017 NFL Draft
- This was a major point of contention for a lot of people throughout the 15 minutes he was at the podium. Pegula said that Whaley “put the whole draft together,” and that there was a collaborative effort within the draft room. This led to a lot of speculation that Whaley had a hand in the draft class in 2017, even though he was fired hours after the event was over. While it’s true to a certain point — in that Whaley and his staff put all the work together on the prospects in the draft — but I believe this was simply an effort to not kick a man while he was down. They fired Whaley, it’s been widely reported that he had been phased out of the decision making at One Bills Drive, and I believe that Pegula genuinely liked Whaley as a human being. In fact, Pegula nearly even came to tears after talking about how there were tears being shed in the building because of the Whaley firing. So, in an effort to not completely emasculate him publicly after they decided to fire him, Pegula pointed to Whaley’s involvement — even if it was in a limited capacity. The “collaborative effort” is a vague term that can mean that they helped do all the homework, though at this point we all now full well that head coach Sean McDermott was the man making the final decisions throughout the draft. And that also means that Sean McDermott should be the one held ultimately responsible for the successes and/or failures of the 2017 draft class.
2) Pegula trying to put his stamp on the organization
- One of the most glaring quotes from Terry Pegula’s press conference was a succinct one:
“We didn’t hire Doug Whaley.”
Though, some might contest that Terry and Kim Pegula gave Whaley an extension in January of 2016 and that it was a form of hiring him… but I digress. The Bills, and Terry and Kim Pegula, didn’t initially bring him on board to the organization, so that’s what the owner was alluding to. However, at long last, the Pegulas are finally making the Bills “their” organization. While there is clearly still some carryover from before they were there, the organization is being scrubbed clean of those that held prominence of power for a long time in Orchard Park. For a long, long time the Bills continued to hire new head coaches and general managers, without anything ever really changing in the support system to those positions. Now, at long last, that is changing. What we’re seeing now is, Terry and Kim Pegula learning on the fly how to be owners in the NFL, and finding out what they value and what makes the most sense on how they want the Bills to be run. If nothing else, they are refusing to allow things to go on like “business as usual.” There is no guarantee that it will work, but at least they’re trying to change the fortunes of the organization from the inside out.
3) The timing of the firing does make sense
- Many people want to know, why now, and why not right when Rex Ryan was fired? Well, that’s a fairly simple answer, and a point that Pegula alluded to in his initial response to the question:
“The decision was made now because this is the end of the scouting year for our pro personnel departments.”
And that line of thinking is logical and adds up for several reasons. If they released Whaley and his staff early on, that would be undoing months and months of scouting — and also putting themselves at risk for teams to poach information from the Bills. At his core, Whaley is a good scout that has an eye for talent, so at the very least, having that knowledge is helpful to the pre-draft process. And, for what it’s worth, having Whaley and all his contacts around the league when the Bills were in the search for a new head coach had to help as a guide as well. Though, when push came to shove, it was the decision of the Pegulas — not Doug Whaley — to hire Sean McDermott. They may have missed out on some potential general managers, but that was really the only risk. Once the draft ended, the final act to start anew at One Bills Drive commenced — which with all things considered, makes sense.
4) Like the Sabres, Terry and Kim Pegula says they’ll lead the GM search
- With the Sabres GM search likely winding down this week — at least that’s how it sounded from Pegula on Sunday, anyway — the Bills will have to kick it back into high gear to bring in a GM to the Bills. The difference, though, is that in this case, they have an established league entity with Sean McDermott already in place, so they’ll likely want — just for harmony’s sake — to hire someone that the head coach is comfortable with, which to them, will hopefully bring a bit more of a conducive relationship between head coach and general manager. If I had to guess what they’re looking for in a general manager, I would start at what has happened with the Sabres. Perhaps the “new blood” mantra applies here, as well, looking for someone that has a lot of league experience but someone that might not have held the actual job of general manager just yet. With all those potential parameters, that’s why you’re seeing names like Brandon Beane (Carolina) and Brett Veach (Kansas City) — two guys that have never held the main job, but have plenty of experience, and have worked with McDermott.
5) Russ Brandon will be there for support if need be
- It’s the question that had to be asked. Russ Brandon, who has seen his role in the football operations reduce significantly over the past few years, is still with the organization — much to the chagrin of some fans. So when some fans saw this exchange, there were some harsh feelings shared on Twitter:
Q: Terry, will Russ Brandon be involved in the search for a new GM?
A: If we need to ask Russ questions, we’re going to ask him. He’s a member of the Bills organization.
Through his time in the league, Brandon has made quite a few contacts within the league so he can help them if need be. That statement from Pegula was a firm vote of confidence to Brandon — a person he trusts with both the Bills and the Sabres to head up the business side of things. Perhaps I’ll be accused of being naive, but I genuinely believe that Brandon -- with the Bills, anyway -- has taken a significant step back in those processes on the football side — despite what some believe at this point. And at the end of the day, Brandon is very good at the business and marketing side of sports. It’s why he still has a lofty job with the Pegulas, and that isn’t changing anytime soon.
6) Jim Monos, Kelvin Fisher, and most of the player personnel department gone, as well
- It wasn’t just Whaley getting released on Sunday, almost the entire player personnel department was let go along with him. That includes director of player personnel Jim Monos, director of pro personnel Rob Hanrahan, player personnel advisor Kelvin Fisher, and every scout listed in the department. Only two names have seemed to survive, Jason Barbarino and Collin Dotterer — both of which player personnel assistants. This was the scrubbing down that Terry and Kim Pegula deemed most necessary to help further their organization at One Bills Drive.
7) Jim Overdorf will be reviewed by the new GM
- The one man that has hung on, for now at least, is Jim Overdorf. The senior vice president of football administration has been kept on for now, but his place within the organization will be reviewed and decided upon by whoever the new general manager is, according to Pegula. That line from Pegula, though only asked about Overdorf, also speculatively should make us at least consider that the entire front office and football administration departments might also be reviewed by the new general manager. Overdorf has helped oversee the contracts for the Bills for a long time and has been with the organization for 31 years. Basically, it appears that everything has been, or will be, reviewed at One Bills Drive — which is something that probably should have happened a long, long time ago.