Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New man in charge

It's been a busy few days at One Bills Drive in Orchard Park.

On Sunday, the Buffalo Bills defeated the New York Jets to close out a disappointing regular season. Fans came in with high expectations thanks to some high-profile roster moves, but they didn't quite work out. The offense was inconsistent, and the defense was worse than that - allowing points in bunches in too many games.

That all made Monday feel inevitable. Head coach Chan Gailey and his entire coaching staff were dismissed. Gailey had three years to try to turn the Bills around, and couldn't do it. Buffalo was under .500 each time, and that was about as much patience as any team in the NFL has these days. If Gailey had come back, he might have been greeted by some serious numbers of empty seats on opening day.

Was that it for trips to Orchard Park? Nope. The media made the drive back to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Tuesday as well. The Bills held a news conference to announce that Russ Brandon had been promoted to team president. Owner Ralph Wilson was "passing the torch" after being in charge since 1960.

Brandon said many of the right things at the news conference. The team's record clearly has been unacceptable for more than a decade (not a single playoff appearance in that time), and the Bills have frequently been less than relevant in any discussions about the NFL. (In other words, they are the Columbus Blue Jackets of pro football.) Brandon wants to get to work to change that, and supposedly he and other executives are off on a interview tour at this writing.

There's no way at this point of knowing what will happen with this change completed. I had heard that Wilson had taken a major step back from day-to-day operations some time ago, and that the Bills were more or less telling him what they planned to do - and having Wilson essentially rubber-stamp it - as opposed to having Wilson make all of the decisions himself. Is this much of a difference?

I'm the opposite of an insider when it comes to the Bills' organization, but I'll be looking for one immediate clue for a possible change of philosophy. Wilson was never a fan of coaches who were big names and thus on the expensive side. I'm not sure why; maybe Chuck Knox's time here was a bad experience somehow. Three years ago there were a lot of good-sized names out there, and the Bills hired none of them to take Gailey. If someone like Lovie Smith shows up for a news conference at One Bills Drive soon, that would be a pretty clear signal that times had changed.

Then again, it's easy to wonder just how much of a different a coach can matter, even at the NFL level. There are all sorts of good people out there that more or less know what they are doing. The ones who succeed for the most part seem to be the ones who have a very good quarterback.

Let's think about that. The Bills have never really replaced Jim Kelly. Doug Flutie and Drew Bledsoe had some moments but their good days didn't last long enough. You can go through Todd Collins, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Alex Van Pelt and now Ryan Fitzpatrick, and you won't find anyone that has been even average statistically. Come to think of it, the Bills went through the quarterback wilderness between the end of the Joe Ferguson Era and the start of Kelly's time here.

Around the league, teams like New England, Green Bay, Denver and Atlanta have top-notch quarterbacks and are in the playoffs. A few teams have won Super Bowls without someone very good at the position, but not many.

The problem is that you never know where the next good quarterback is coming from. That means Brandon and the rest of the Bills front office could use some luck in the upcoming season to identify a new face at that spot who can make a difference. Otherwise, we may be having more news conferences in a relatively short time.

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