What’s happenin’, kids? It’s been a while since I’ve said anything here. For a few weeks there I couldn’t even tolerate watching the team, much less sitting down to write about them. More recently, I’ve had the desire but not the means as my recently-purchased computer shit the bed and I’ve been without a way to put more than 140 characters down at a time. Now the new digs have arrived thanks to a helpful pal and we’re ready to roll. A lot has happened with the Bills organization since we last talked, so let’s get jiggy with it.
To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Buffalo didn’t live up to the pre-season hype and fell short of the playoffs again. I think we all kind of expected it after the Houston game, maybe sooner. Thirteen years is a damn long time to keep ‘maybe next year’-ing but hey, we’re into that sort of thing. Despite beating the Jets in Orchard Park in the season finale, the decision had long-since been made and Chan Gailey was showed the door along with everybody under him the day after the game. Sure, the guy had a piss-poor record and his playcalling was questionable (read: completely asinine) at times, but for the most part I actually liked Chan.
His attitude and the system he ran intrigued me, and the way he got the most out of players like David Nelson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Scott Chandler, and the entire offensive line impressed me. Still, the reason that Dicky J was fired and Chan was brought in was to win more games, and he failed to do that. He handled his exit well and even earned some “that dude’s still cool” points with me for his declaration that he’ll still root for the Bills while he’s occupying a Lazy Boy (I mean, it’s not like he’s going to get another job).
With the coaching staff taking a hike came another move, one of a much higher magnitude, when Russ Brandon – all marketing, no real sports acumen – took over for Ralph Wilson as the team’s president. In effect, this makes Ralph just the guy with the checkbook and is a HUGE move considering how ridiculously bad that senile asshat is at making decisions that are anything but a detriment to the franchise.
I’ve read so many things looking at this as a glass-half-full-of-shit situation, assuming that Brandon has been the one calling the shots for a while now, and while there’s no doubting that possibility, the perception of this team around the league and with major media has changed. The face of this team and front office has (excuse my use of this beaten-to-death point) become a drastically younger entity with Brandon taking over and Doug Whaley ready to hop into Buddy Nix’ shoes whenever he retires. It already seemed to work in their favor during the coaching search, and I’m curious to see if it makes any difference with the upcoming free agent market.
Speaking of that coaching search, there’s no better way to describe the hire(s) made than the term ‘cautious optimism.’ The pros of Doug Marrone, Nathaniel Hackett, and Mike Pettine sound appealing on the surface. Marrone and Hackett turned around a dismal Syracuse football program and showed an incredible ability to progress and develop players over their few years there. Pettine has been the defensive coordinator overseeing some stellar Jet defenses recently and was a part of Rex Ryan’s staff in Baltimore during some equally impressive years for their defenses. Still, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that Marrone still only held a .500 record in the Big East as well as he and Hackett having very limited experience in the league. Pettine has been referred to by many familiar with his role in New York as nothing more than a figurehead, a la Curtis Modkins with the most recent Buffalo staff.
Popular perception is that Ryan was calling the plays and drawing up the schemes while Pettine basically coached linebackers and assumed the title of coordinator. Even with that all, I choose to lean in the direction of positive thinking. Marrone is a great manager of the whole team – something widely ignored in the past few head coaching searches here. That’ll allow him to take care of leadership and overall tuning of the team with support from his assistants rather than being the glorified coordinator with about as much control over the team as a substitute teacher commands in a classroom.
Hackett has a system and scheme that is very interesting and has flavors of the K-Gun mixed in with other unique and innovative ideas – a scheme which he managed to implement during the season with a reasonably high degree of success. Lastly, Pettine has a strong reputation amongst those in the league, those who have a much better grasp on what he does and who he is than Joe Jet Blogger out there. Even if the schemes were Ryan’s, who’s to say Pettine doesn’t have his own takes on those alignments and a mind for using players correctly?
All three guys are players’ coaches, and with the exception of Hackett are hard-nosed in getting what they want out of them. I’m not head-over-heels for the hires, but they’re something new for this organization and that alone gives me more hope than a lot of the other interviewees could have.
As we’ve all seen countless times before though, none of this means a damn thing if they can’t get players to produce on the field. We still have the upcoming free agent period and draft to get through, a whole new playbook to adapt to, and an entire summer to put the right pieces in place. These guys need a quarterback, a linebacker, a corner, a wideout, and about ten wins to make me really think we’ve got something special.
Until then, I’m reserved.
I’ll give this group the benefit of the doubt, just as I gave it to Gailey, Wannstedt, and others previous. As with all things Buffalo sports though, niceties and gestures of the sort last only as long as you keep the sun shining on us. Losses are tough, and when you’re already struggling to fill your building that has the second lowest ticket prices in the league before you assuredly bump them up with the impending renovation and expansion, you can’t afford much more losing. Here’s looking forward to another period of cautious optimism and unreasonable frustration.
Until next time, go Bills.