The three-day draft last week in Philadelphia was the crowning event. The actual draft process required nearly a year prior of thankless, brutal travel, research, and grinding. NFL personnel people routinely live this life.
So, when the draft concludes, all usually exhale.
But for it to end with a “see ya, you’re fired,” there is raw, cruel emotion in that. An angry and bitter resolve can immediately pervade. This is what is happening now in Indianapolis and in Buffalo as both franchises experience upheaval. The Colts fired their college scouting staff on Sunday one day after the draft concluded. The Bills fired general manager Doug Whaley and the entire scouting staff on the same day.
The Whaley firing jolted the league.
Whaley is getting his share of sideways looks and scorn.
But Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula are being especially whacked.
Whaley arrived in Buffalo four seasons ago from the Pittsburgh Steelers, a seasoned personnel guru with excellent football acumen. He was one of the league’s bright personnel stars. He had two Bills seasons with Doug Marrone as head coach and two seasons with Rex Ryan as head coach, went 30-34 and poof! He’s gone. Marrone bolted in 2015 when the Pegulas became Bills owners. Marrone clearly sensed then what is evident now in the Buffalo dysfunction that has followed.
Whaley’s personnel choices range from troublesome to solid. He missed on quarterback EJ Manuel. And he paid a high and deserving price for receiver Sammy Watkins, whose injuries have made that move more frustrating. But, unquestionably, the Bills roster is not the least talented in the NFL. In fact, in Whaley’s last draft -– highlighted by cornerback Tre'Davious White -- it just got stronger.
The Bills are such a mess, though, that we don’t know if these were Whaley’s picks or new head coach Sean McDermott’s.
"I think Doug became the victim of some pretty poor coaching here by Rex Ryan in the last two seasons,’’ said a Bills executive, requesting anonymity. "Those teams were just not coached well, and then Rex adds his brother, Rob, to the staff, and I think he lost some players with that move. I think Rex stepped back and lost his fastball, too. Doug tried to give Rex the players he wanted. His staff preached they needed Jerome Felton at fullback last year. Doug went and made it happen, retained him. Then they hardly used him. This was just one example of how the coaches made a lot of excuses for a staff that was, itself, dysfunctional.’’
Once Ryan was booted by the Pegulas last December, Whaley led the new coaching search. Or did he?
Some people inside the Bills organization insist that Whaley’s choice was current head coach Sean McDermott. Others there say his first choice was Bills interim head coach Anthony Lynn, now the Los Angeles Chargers head coach. Either way, the final call was the Pegulas’. And they have told some in their inner circle that they question whether they made the right move letting Lynn walk.
McDermott became the guy, however, and it was clear from the outset that he wanted a strong hand in personnel and that he did not see Whaley as a bridge to future success.
"The guy that Whaley chose bit his ass,’’ the Bills executive said.
Whaley made his NFL name by digging for players, hitting the road, traveling to big and hidden places, never minding hopping on flight to flight. And some people in the Bills front office said that was part of his undoing as general manager, that he never fully understood or embraced the full role of a GM, all of the details. He never stopped being a scout, they said. He was frequently out of the office and on the road, they said. He was like an assistant coach who became a head coach who kept act liking an assistant coach.
But when the Pegulas fired Ryan, they kept Whaley. And when they hired McDermott, they kept Whaley.
"Both of them, and especially Kim, are into branding,’’ the Bills executive said. "She is really caught up into that. And when you think branding more than you think pure football sense and what works and what doesn’t and the type of clarity you need in an organization, you’re toast. I think they have regret about a lot of the way they’ve handled things since becoming owners. But I don’t think they knew any better then or now.’’
Whaley’s out. The Bills scouting staff is out. Ryan is gone. Marrone is long gone.
The Pegulas should let McDermott pick his own GM and give both total juice even though McDermott is a first-time NFL head coach. Because these first-time NFL owners are the source of the Bills dysfunction. It originates with the choices they have made and the best chance for resolution is for them to make fewer of them.