Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ahhh, screw the Gipper. What did he ever do for us, anyway?

Adam Schein of FOX Sports spends part of a regular column opining on the Buffalo Bills -- specifically, just who is to blame for the fact that the team is a giant mess right now. Here's the entirety of his take:

1. The Bills' mess is Dick Jauron's fault.

This is a bust.

Don't get me wrong. The record proves that Jauron, a strong football mind, did a bad job. There were major issues with in-game strategy through the years, from the disasters against Cleveland, Dallas and New England on national television to this past Sunday in Tennessee. And Jauron didn't surround himself with great offensive and defensive coordinators. Firing Turk Schonert right before the season was ill-timed and ill-advised. Promoting Alex Van Pelt, who had never called plays before, was even worse. Schonert should've been let go in the offseason and then the Bills should've had a new coordinator in place for the offseason workouts.

But there are other factors. The club needs to reshape the football department.

Ralph Wilson has a reputation of being impatient and, relatively speaking, cheap. That means any unemployed coach with Super Bowl rings will not even consider lovely Western New York. I saw our friend Adam Schefter reported the Bills have contacted Mike Shanahan. That would be great. But does Shanahan really want the Bills?

And Terrell Owens once again takes a major hit. I wrote on that this was a 'boom or bust' move for the Bills, and they'd win either 6 or 10 games. It's been a total bust. T.O., according to defensive coaches around the league, doesn't bust it off the line of scrimmage every play. Those with and around the Bills scratch their heads as T.O. would get a day off from practice every week, often times on the crucial Friday before a game.

Sometimes, the coaching staff would actually be surprised when T.O. didn't practice. T.O. is a club killer. And Owens' play has fallen off. I don't see a team taking a chance on him next year. He's helped bring down the Bills. T.O. was jawing at assistants during the Tennessee game. Who would want him?

I find this whole bit rather odd. Schein has been a consistent defender of Jauron's pretty much all along up until Jauron's firing last week, insisting at various intervals that Jauron can, in fact, be a winning coach in the NFL. This point is rather dubious now, considering that Jauron's had head-coaching stints in two different franchises in this decade that last longer than three seasons in each place and yet he managed to turn in exactly one winning season for all that. (I don't count Jauron's service as an interim coach with the Lions against him, because that was the Lions during the Matt Millen era. No coach in history could have won there.)

Schein's partially correct here: the Bills' problems go a lot farther than Dick Jauron. However, Jauron's role in the craptacularity of the on-field product also can't be undersold, either. Schein indicates some of Jauron's errors, from questionable coaching staff hiring (and firing) to his on-field goofs. But Schein then says what everybody in Buffalo already knows: that the front office is just as big a problem here. The team's talent level just isn't good enough, and everybody knows it: draft picks that were outright busts, or picks that ignored more critical needs, or free agent signees that turned out poorly, and so on. But Jauron had his parts there, too: witness the release of Langston Walker right before this season started. That was a dumb move to make given the team's intention of starting the least experienced offensive line in team history (and possibly in league history). The Bills' habit in recent years of drafting handfuls of defensive backs every year, even in the face of critical holes on the roster everywhere else, is pure Jauron. But even with Jauron now gone, every Bills fan I've either talked to or heard on the radio call-in shows has said the same thing: if all that is changed is the head coach, then the Bills will almost certainly not improve much.

Schein's third paragraph echoes a pretty odd sentiment that I find generally uncompelling: "Ralph Wilson is notoriously cheap, so no big-name coach would come to Buffalo." Now, this is possible, but from the standpoint that Wilson may decline to spend the money necessary to bring a big-name coach here. But then, there is still the fact that Wilson is breaking his pattern with the Jauron firing, to some degree: he's not trying to recoup the money he's losing by paying Jauron to not coach here, and he's already pledged that at season's end there will be a large "re-evaluation" of the organization. Besides that, there's the fact that Wilson's recent history doesn't so much bear out cheapness as his motivation rather than a tendency to try to do the opposite thing when the last thing doesn't work out. That's how you go from a fairly sedate coach like Wade Philips to a more fiery guy like Gregg Williams; and then from a defensive guy like Williams to an offensive guy like Mike Mularkey; and then from an inexperienced guy like Mularkey to an experienced and steady hand like Dick Jauron (who was selected by Marv Levy, anyway). Wilson has also in the past proven willing to spend money on players, so I don't see that he'd be resolutely unwilling to ante up for a good coach. He has also, in the past, decided to hire what he saw as a "strong football guy" to take over just about all of the team operations, which is how Tom Donahoe arrived.

Wilson's chief fault, in my view, is not so much cheapness as that he's often unwilling to pull the trigger when the trigger needs to be pulled and that he's frankly not that great a judge of whom he should hire. Now, maybe the latter doesn't bode well for the next great rejiggering of the Bills franchise, but he's already started pulling the trigger, so we'll see what happens.

Color me unconvinced, also, by the various arguments I've seen thrown around this past week that a "big name" coach or GM wouldn't want to come here, just by definition, because the Bills have been a mess for years. A big-name coach or GM is going to want two things: a dollar figure, and the authority to do things the way he wants. If Ralph Wilson agrees to those, then someone's going to sign the dotted line. The Kansas City Chiefs were, after last year, a bigger mess than the Bills are now, but that didn't stop Scott Pioli from going there. Somehow there's always somebody willing to take on the coaching duties in Detroit, Oakland, Washington, and Cleveland.

Finally, the last two paragraphs of Schein's entry are laughable. Look, folks, as someone who's been paying attention, let me tell you that Terrell Owens is the last person to blame for the fact that the Bills are terrible in 2009. Now, he's not exactly taking it on himself to make things a lot better, but he is in no way a cause of anything bad here. No, he doesn't put a great deal of effort into things, but any locker room discord right now on the Bills is more a function of things like losing than T.O.'s complaining. If anyone thinks that the couple of passes a game that T.O. has dropped, or the routes he's run half-heartedly when the ball had zero chance of coming his way anyway because the offensive line can't block and the two quarterbacks can't complete a pass to anyone other than a running back are primary reasons the Bills have been losing this year, then that person can speak up, and I'll call them an idiot for their troubles.

Dick Jauron was an enormous factor in the Bills' era of woe, and for Schein to pretend otherwise is just goofy -- as is his bizarre T.O. rant.

UPDATE: As I write this, the Bills are playing the Jaguars. I'm not watching, but I just looked at the game stats as they are right now, with the 3rd quarter almost over, and T.O.'s line is 8 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown. Yeah, that guy's certainly been the turd in the Bills' punchbowl this year.

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