One of the most awkward news conferences in recent memory happened on Monday in Orchard Park, N.Y., home of the Buffalo Bills, where general manager Doug Whaley essentially said that he wasn’t responsible for hiring Rex Ryan as the team’s head coach less than two years ago and he wasn’t responsible for firing him last week either.
Given that, it’s a mystery why Whaley was trotted out in front of the media to answer questions.
But two of the principals involved, Ryan and Bills owner Terry Pegula, were talking on Monday, Ryan to Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB and Pegula to John Wawrow of the Associated Press. Between the two, we get a sense as to what went wrong that led to Ryan’s tenure being so brief.
“None of us are happy with the season,” Pegula told Wawrow, noting that he’s disappointed to have to change coaches after just two years. According to Pegula, the Bills’ stagnant defense under a coach as defensive-minded as Ryan played a role in his decision.
It was “an executive decision” to fire Ryan, Pegula said, after the weekly conference call between himself, Whaley and Ryan on Dec. 27, before the Bills’ season finale against the New York Jets.
At the close of the call, Ryan asked to speak with Pegula privately; the coach then asked Pegula directly about his future with the team. Pegula said he had no choice at that point but to be straight with Ryan.
“I was asked a point-blank question and based on the discussions we’ve been having all year, I felt it was better to tell Rex that we were going in a different direction,” Pegula said.
Pegula intended to wait to evaluate Ryan’s future until after the final game of the season, but said he likely would have come to the same decision based on what he’d seen, input he’d gotten from Buffalo front-office staff and conversations he’d had with Ryan about the team’s struggles.
But Pegula said he never had the specific discussion with Whaley on whether Ryan would be retained.
“[Whaley] had input on the basis of conversations throughout the year, what the problems were,” Pegula said. “But did Doug ever say, ‘Are we firing our coach, are we keeping our coach?’ We never had that conversation. I took it upon myself to tell Rex on the basis of conversations about the games and the aftermath of certain games that, hey, things aren’t going well.”
It was Ryan who recommended to Pegula that Anthony Lynn take over as interim coach; Lynn is now considered the front-runner to become head coach.
In Ryan’s chat with Vrentas, he gave a similar timeline of events, with one major difference: according to Ryan, the team’s situation with quarterback Tyrod Taylor played a big role in the dissolution of the relationship.
Pegula didn’t mention that during the conference call with Whaley and Ryan, Ryan learned of the decision to bench Taylor for the finale.
The Bills were already out of playoff contention, and there was a financial risk to playing Taylor: his $27.5 million salary for 2017 is guaranteed for injury only, so if he suffered a significant injury in the game, the team would have been responsible for that amount; they also wanted to see the other quarterbacks on the roster, E.J. Manuel and Cardale Jones.
Ryan had hand-picked Taylor to be his starting quarterback, and had promised the 2011 draft pick that as long as Ryan was coach in Buffalo, Taylor would be his QB. Not wanting to break his promise and leery of how it would play in the locker room if he did, Ryan told Pegula that if he was going to fire him a week later anyway, he may as well do it then.
So Pegula did.
As noted by Vrentas, Pegula and Whaley left Ryan wondering for weeks about his status with the team, and seemingly weren’t concerned about how the rest of the team would respond to Taylor being benched, even as he’d posted one of the most productive seasons (at least from a yardage perspective) in Bills history.
And that’s part of the reason why, to many, Buffalo is the worst of the six head coaching openings.
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