1) The Beginning
During the infancy of this site around 2010, I was in a bad place with the hierarchy of the Bills (Shocking!) and it was due in large part because of the power structure. The Bills had just hired Buddy Nix to be the GM after they basically looked down the hallway and asked if he wanted to be the new boss after going 9 straight years without the playoffs. I wasn’t happy and wanted sweeping changes and new blood. However, there ended up being a bit of a silver lining as the Bills brought in an outsider from Pittsburgh. Yes! New blood from someone from a winning culture. That’s really all I ever wanted was someone who didn’t have any sort of link to the Bills. That man was Doug Whaley and this is his story.
2) Where did Whaley go wrong?
Sammy Watkins deal, maybe EJ, Mike Williams trade, Bryce Brown trade, Cyrus draft pick, Cassel trade (to get him), not getting along with coaches, Percy Harvin signing, not finding a QB, and bad contracts. Whaley was 30-34 as the GM which ranked 19th best in the league over his 4 years.
3) Where did Whaley go right?
Lorenzo Alexander signing, McCoy trade, Incognito signing (Yuk), Mike Gillislee signing, trading Matt Cassel away, Zach Brown signing and Corey Graham signing.
If you were to take all the good the previous GMs of the Bills have done, you would actually have a decent football team except for two very important things: QB and Coach. This is where almost every GM since Butler have completely messed up on. You can comb their resumes and find a lot of decent selections, but where they have completely been destroyed at has been hiring a coach and finding a QB.
Donahoe blew it with Williams/Mularkey/Bledsoe/Losman even though he built a really good defense. Levy/Modrak blew it with Jauron/Edwards even though they found Kyle Williams, Marshawn Lynch, Stevie, Wood, Byrd, and Jabari Greer. Nix blew it with Fitz/Chan even though he signed Mario, drafted Dareus, and traded for Hughes. Now Whaley blew it with EJ/Marrone/Tyrod/Rex even though he had some nice picks ups.
Bottom line: If you want to hold onto your GM job, you better hit on QB and HC because if you don’t, it will cast a large shadow over the good decisions they make.
5) The GM who wasn’t really the GM
No one is going to shed tears for this firing. The media and fans couldn’t stand Whaley and were incredulous at the thought of him keeping his job. What will get lost in the postmortem of this firing is what sort of influence Whaley had on this team. This is my theory and it may have flaws to it, but I don’t think Whaley had any sort of input on the hiring of Doug Marrone. That was all Russ Brandon doing his best Littlefinger which everyone in the media never mentions cause Brandon is a source to the local guys. I also think Brandon, who was seen fist-pumping during the Watkins trade in the war room, had a bigger part in that deal to the point that someone told me that Brandon thought Sammy was the best player in the league. Yes, best player in the F’N league.
Thank God the Pegulas can ask this snake oil salesman about his takes if they want [Sets self on fire]. Additionally, the Bills didn’t have an owner and I’m sure Whaley/Marrone/Brandon had zero idea if they would keep their jobs. So, they went balls to the wall to make that deal in order to save their jobs because they needed to win at that moment. Who knows if Ralph was still alive they still make that move.
I think Whaley was your traditional GM during the first two years under Marrone with picking players, but the discord/blame between the two of them blew up in their faces when all the leaks started happening about St. Doug, fighting over EJ, Mike Williams trade, and Urbik/Cryus not playing enough. I think when Marrone left, the Bills basically neutered Whaley’s powers because it worked out so badly between he and Marrone.
By reports, Whaley wanted Hue Jackson, but the Pegulas/Brandonfinger picked Rex Ryan. And when Rex Ryan came in, Rex had almost as much carte blanche as McDermott with the roster. You think the Bills fixation with signing ex-Jets started with Whaley? That’s Rex. I bet Rex wanted Incognito, Tyrod, Darby, Shaq Lawson, and Ragland. I think Greg Roman wanted Charles Clay and Jerome Felton. I think for the last two years, Whaley was a sounding board for Rex and when Rex wanted a specific player, Whaley told him his choices and Rex picked them like he was at Golden Corral buffet. And with the contracts – like say not having provisions to recoup bonus money from Dareus due to his suspension? Go blame Jim Overdorf because he’s the one who designs the contract cap figures.
Remember all those stories about how Anthony Lynn was the leading candidate for the Bills? I’m willing to bet that’s who Doug Whaley wanted and leaked it to a few outlets. And what happened? The coaching search he “lead” and orchestrated, well, the coach they found fired him basically.
Don’t get me wrong, I would have still fired him because anyone connected to the old guard should have been axed years ago. Plus, you are what your record says you are. However, when you are bagging on this roster and contracts, be sure to mention how Rex Ryan had a major say, while the GM didn’t when it came to hiring his coaches.
We will never know how much of an influence Whaley had on the EJ pick. Did he go to the bathroom during the pick and Buddy Nix was entrenched with selecting him or did Whaley love the pick. After that draft, there were a ton of interviews with Whaley with him saying he liked the pick. Of course, he’s not going to say he hates it. In fairness to Whaley, a lot of media/fans have tired pinning EJ on him. I’m sure Whaley liked EJ and the Bills did everything in their power to distance him from that pick.
Yet, Whaley wasn’t that big of an asshole with forcing EJ down his coaches throats. For the most part, he kept him around as just the backup QB. He didn’t tell Marrone to F-off when he brought Kyle Orton in from the dead to start 14 games into EJ’s career. Did he tell Rex Ryan he had to start EJ because the Bills invested a first round pick on him? No. I will say this until I’m blue in the face, but backup QBs suck in general and EJ by comparison isn’t as awful as his backup peers. EJ to me will always be more on Buddy because at least Whaley didn’t get involved with telling his coach to play his guy.
7) Was the timing of the firing right?
Been a lot of takes about why the Bills didn’t make this move after the season. Pegula said it best because the scouting season officially ends at the draft and I agree with that. If anything, I kind of wish the Bills would have brought in someone to oversee the drafting process in January. Hell, just hire a president of football operations and have him oversee Whaley and when the draft ended, president of football operations fires Whaley and the football operations guy becomes in essence the new GM. It is basically the reverse Nix/Modrak firing from 2011.
At least then, we have someone who is supposed to be better in charge of the draft. Instead, we will get this, if the draft class is decent in 3 years, the Bills will say it was all McDermott. If the draft class fails, they will say Whaley gave McDermott poor evaluations for the players he picked.
8) Where do we go next?
To hell. Actually, I don’t know. I will say it is very important we get a GM/Coach who see each other eye-to-eye. The Bills haven’t had that since Nix/Chan and their last two GM/Coach Combos resembled the Lannisters/Tyrells running King’s Landing. The question is what happens with McDermott’s role? Is he still going to be like Bill Belichick and run NFL drafts with the GM being the sounding board or will the GM be your more traditional GM with having a final say on the 53-man roster. It can be a very dangerous game if there isn’t any sort of power structure where you have the GM and coach report separately to owners.
It didn’t work last time with Rex/Whaley. Personally, I still like the idea of GM being in charge, but I think you have to give McDermott that power over him because they hired the coach first. Yes, I’m not a fan of giving someone that inexperienced that much say. Normally, the GM is the one who hires the coach and if the GM doesn’t know who his boss is, that’s when you could have a power struggle. You have to set up boundaries as to who the boss is. If you give the GM equal power, he could easily get resentful that he ended up not picking the coach. So for that, I think you stick with it being McDermott as the main man in charge. You made it this far, so you better keep going and not do it half-ass. More is lost in indecision than wrong decision.
Also, high-five to the Pegulas for firing everyone in the scouting department. I’ve been begging for that for years. Anyone who is connected to Ralph Wilson/Russ Brandon/Buddy Nix needed to be fired years ago. Get rid of Overdorf and send Russ Brandon to Alaska to scout stadium sites should be the next move.
9) Whaley didn’t do himself favors in public
“Two keys to winning: Players and winning” Oh, Doug. Doug wasn’t exactly a wordsmith in public and the Bills didn’t make him available all that much to the press. Once you aren’t available to the press, the vultures are out. Additionally, rumor has it that Whaley had a bat line to Jason LaCalifornia which of course rubbed a lot of local folks the wrong way. Even though Buddy Nix had the 4th most losses in the NFL during his tenure as GM, I don’t remember much of an outcry for him to lose his job nearly as much Whaley. In fact, more people wrote lovely things about him when he quit. When you aren’t quotable and available to the media, you are fucked here.
10) Last word
During the season, I put a lot of blame on Rex Ryan for the Bills problems. You could have convinced me to give Whaley one more year with him having a say in hiring the coach for a change. I felt Rex destroyed a hell of a defense that Whaley helped put together. However, I lost Doug during the whole Tyrod disaster in the season finale. To bench him after having the game of his life over money was despicable and made Tyrod into a martyr. I think that whole process made Whaley into public enemy #1. It also didn’t help how the Bills let Anthony Lynn go out there and answer questions about benching Tyrod when he had nothing to do with it.
If I’m reading the Pegula tea leaves correctly, they want buttoned up, well spoken people as their coach and GM. A main reason why Rex and Murray were fired by the Pegulas was because of their communication skills. I think they saw both of them as being abrasive and not playing well with others. Fault him or not, but I think with Whaley, communication was his undoing. There was a disconnect between he and his coaches. There was a disconnect with him and the media. There was a disconnect with him and his QB.
While I can easily say the people surrounding him didn’t help matters at all, it just always felt Whaley was in over his head from the start.