“You are what your record says you are” ― Bill Parcells
The Buffalo Bills were eliminated from playoff contention last week with their 35-25 loss to the Washington Redskins. The loss gave the Bills a 6-8 record on the season which ensured that they won’t match last year’s 9-7 mark. A 9-7 may not seem great but it was the best Bills record since 2004 and convinced then head coach Doug Marrone to exercise an opt-out clause in his contract that allowed him to resign, and collect his full 2015 salary. Marrone interviewed for the vacant New York Jets job but didn’t get it and became an assistanct coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
To replace Marrone the Bills turned to Rex Ryan who had just been fired as coach of the Jets after six seasons. Under Ryan’s watch the Jets made the AFC championship game in his first two years and didn’t post a willing season or a playoff appearance in his last four with two 8-8 records to go along with a 6-10 mark and a 4-12 record in his final Jets season.
Ryan was given a five year 27.5 million dollar contract to coach the Bills. At the time, Bills owner Terry Pegula said "We look forward to his leadership and expertise in directing our team to the playoffs and bringing a championship to Buffalo for our fans." Before the season started Ryan said "We definitely expect to be in the playoffs. We have a good team." And yet here are the Bills sitting at 6-8, out of the playoffs, and whale they are a mediocre team are decidedly not good. Two of their six wins have come against .500 or better teams (the 7-7 Houston Texans and the 9-5 New York Jets) and three of their losses have been againt sub .500 teams (the 6-8 Giants and Eagles and the 5-9 Jacksonville Jaguars).
The thing that I wonder why a team with a 9-7 record on the cusp of the playoffs that suddenly finds themselves in need of a coach would pick a coach coming off a 4 year playoff drought with a 4-12 record? On the surface it seems ludicrous but Rex Ryan did take the Jets to two AFC championship games and the New York media made him out to be a larger than life character despite the four non-winning seasons that followed. Terry Pegula is the new owner of the team and probably thought it would be a public relations coup for his small-market upstate New York team to hire the media darling big city football coach.
A month ago the Bills were on the fringes of the AFC playoff race with a 5-4 record but have become undone with four losses in their last five games. The team has been one of the most penalized in NFL history and has been just good enough to lose by 8 points or less to the Patriots twice. Meanwhile the Jets hired a hungry first time coach in former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and have a 9-5 record behind journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, journeyman running back Chris Ivory, and free agent pickups Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall.
I can’t imagine Pegula eating the 22 million left on Ryan’s contract but someone has to take the blame for the team’s shortcomings. The most likely candidate is general manager Doug Whaley. Whaley drafted Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel with the Bills #1 draft pick in 2013. Manuel lost his starting job last ear to injury and this year to journeyman Tyrod Taylor. I wouldn’t hold one draft pick against Whaley since a roster good enough to go 9-7 must have assembled some talent. Perhaps the biggest mark against Whaley is that he was in charge of the coaching search that led to the hiring of Ryan.
To give you an idea of why the media is so enamored of Rex Ryan, here is a sampling of quotes from his post-game press conferences this year. These quotes make for great stories and are nothing like what other coaches have to say after games.
"It's on my shoulders. Belichick outcoached me. No question about it." September 20th after a 40-32 loss to the Patriots
"Can we play a lot smarter? Absolutely…Say what you want, but I'll take a team that will fight." October 4th after a 24-19 loss to the Giants
"You take away this guy, you take away that guy…Well, this other dude beats you.'' October 18th after a 34-21 loss to the Bengals
"Anything that could go wrong did go wrong" October 25th after a 34-31 loss to the Jaguars in London where the Bills were penalized 10 times, lost 2 fumbles, and had 2 interceptions
"Our D never looked great, but we had our moments." November 8th after a 33-17 win over the Dolphins
"I can tell the truth, this thing is kind of like being dumped by some girl you have the hots for. Every guy in this room has been dumped by a girl. You move on, and every now and then, they call you back. 'And they can't have you back.'" November 13th after a 22-17 win over the Jets
"I thought we were the better team, but obviously we got beat. We have ourselves to blame." December 13th after a 23-20 loss to the Eagles
"Did it go according to plan? No, not this year" December 20th after a 35-25 loss to the Redskins
Rex Ryan is a popular coach with fans, media, and players but at the end of the day like Bill Parcells say “You are what your record says you are” and Ryan’s mediocre record of 52-58 says that Rex Ryan is a mediocre coach. If Pegula fires Whaley the new GM will be stuck with a coach he didn’t hire that the media will cover in a favorable light. If Pegula fires Ryan he will be admitting to a very expensive mistake. If it was me I’d give Whaley the chance to continue to build the team and let him decide Ryan’s fate but it is more likely Whaley will be shown the door and Ryan given more authority to send the Bills latest rebuilding effort down the drain.