Imagine ... the message boards had it totally wrong
I actually had normally logical Bills’ fans tell me those sites claimed that Ralph Wilson — via a secret, carefully-edited videotape — was going to hold a press conference on Monday and would turn the team over to Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas .... and they believed it.
Instead the announcement on Tuesday — without Wilson there — took a different tack.
The Bills’ 94-year-old owner announced that Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon had been promoted to team president.
That’s significant in that Brandon now has full authority over the entire organization’s operations, a position held exclusively by Wilson since 1960, with the exception of Tom Donahoe’s five-year tenure.
IN A STATEMENT about Brandon’s elevation, Wilson noted, “Russ has done a tremendous job in his 16 years with our organization and is very highly respected throughout the National Football League. He has proven to be extremely successful with each new level of responsibility he has been given and has earned this opportunity. Russ is a proven leader and he will now have full authority over the entire Buffalo Bills operation. I have granted him full autonomy to run the organization as he feels is best."
Wilson added, “These past 13 years have been very difficult on our fans and we have not produced the type of winning team that they deserve. It has been frustrating for our organization and for me as well. We want our team to be one that our fans are proud of. I believe that Russ has the unique abilities to assemble and lead the talent we will need to get the job done.”
Excuse my skepticism, but this smacks of same-old, same-old.
Start with the fact that 73-year-old Buddy Nix, he of the dubious drafting record and the ill-fated Chan Gailey hiring, remains as general manager. Supposedly, he will stay in that position through the upcoming draft after which 40-year-old assistant GM and Director of Player Personnel Doug Whaley takes over as general manager.
Nix’s survival is reason for concern because he hardly qualifies as the personnel man who can orchestrate the changes this organization so desperately needs.
Indeed, some of his power has already been abdicated to Brandon.
And that’s the other problem.
Brandon’s skills as a marketing guru are unquestioned and his ability to represent the Bills in league meetings and function effectively in that crucible has been impressively demonstrated in recent years.
But he’s not a football man and probably never will be ... that’s not his pedigree.
If you doubt it, ponder Jerry Jones.
The Cowboys’ owner is such an astute businessman that he was able to buy the NFL’s most valuable franchise.
But there’s a reason Dallas has won exactly one playoff game in the past 16 years ... Jones’ hubris. He remains convinced that his talent assessment skills equal his business acumen.
And as long as he controls the draft, the Cowboys won’t come close to the success they enjoyed before he ran off Jimmy Johnson, whose coaching and drafting skills made Dallas the NFL’s best and most talented team.
ONE HOPES that Brandon knows what he doesn’t know.
But where’s the “genius” who will make 2013’s critical draft and free agent selections?
Not based on recent history
Hopefully, Whaley, a genuine rising talent?
However, ultimately, the final call will be Brandon’s ... but based on what personnel experience?
That whole scenario is worrisome without a seasoned, skilled general manager.
Too often in the past, Ralph has rewarded loyal employees with expertise in one area, with promotions beyond their abilities ... the classic Peter Principle.
And that argument could me made in Brandon’s case ... especially having to rely on Nix as his “expert.”
THAT LEADS to the other issue ... head coach.
The Bills have had a knack of hiring coaches, over the past 15 years, whom the players loved, but didn’t demand a high degree of discipline.
Gregg Williams, Donahoe’s first hire, was the opposite. He played the tough guy, beating up his players with double sessions in training camp and unnecessarily long practices.
But Wade Phillips, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron and Gailey were beloved by their players, yet hardly disciplinarians.
And, of that group, only Phillips (29-19 in three regular seasons, plus two playoff appearances) actually won.
Since then, “soft” hasn’t worked for Buffalo’s head coaches.
Historically, in a game as tough as pro football, the no-nonsense coaches seem to succeed at a higher rate: Vince Lombardi ... Don Shula ... Chuck Noll ... Bill Belichick ... Johnson ... Bill Parcells ... Bill Cowher ... Tom Coughlin ... Mike Ditka ... Dennis Green, et al.
And it would seem that’s what the Bills need.
A persistent comment from many of the current Buffalo players lamenting Gailey’s firing cited the fact “he gave me a chance.”
Only marginal talents make that sort of statement and it speaks to the skill level — or lack of it — on Buffalo’s roster, despite the touting of its talent.
Clearly the Bills’ most crying need is an experienced, successful, high-discipline coach.
But that decision will be made by Brandon, Nix, Whaley and Jim Overdorf, a vice president in charge of contract negotiation.
That’s two non-football guys, a GM being ushered out, and an up-and-coming assistant who would be best-qualified to make the most knowledgeable choice.
Here’s hoping Brandon — who will be on the hook for the decision, no matter — listens to the voice knowledge.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)