Here's how twisted things have become for at least one Buffalo Bills fan: There was a moment two weeks ago during the game against Jacksonville when I found myself thinking, "Please don't win ..."
Nothing against interim coach Perry Fewell, but card-carrying members of Bills Nation are 10 years deep into the kind of mediocrity that has led more than one of Buffalo's souvlaki restaurant owner/operators to torch the joint and pray the insurance covers a re-boot. A win against the Jags might have given Ralph Wilson and the brain trust at One Bills Drive the kind of incentive that has led them to hire bargain-basement coaches over and over again, while non-football men manage the shop.
Let the record show that I was not born evil ... I was driven to it by a team that has spent the past 10 years blindly ignorant of some very basic football truths: Stop the run, start a competent offensive line, rush the passer, and field a viable NFL quarterback. Toss it all together in a skillet with a dash of cayenne pepper, and you are ready to chow down on the kind of failure that burns twice.
Alas, despite the fact that T.O. finally played like a superstar, the Bills found a way to spare me the worry in Jax ... only to return home and win against the reviled Dolphins in a way that makes me feel like a complete tool for doubting these fine young men. So what have we learned? That all we've needed was a coach who is willing to bench underperformers and take some risks in the fourth quarter? Dark days, my friends, dark days. But I know I'm not alone, and this problem is bigger than the yin-yang whiplash of back-to-back games that have no consequence in the playoff picture.
Innkeeper, keep the Kettle One flowing! Glug, glug, glurrrrrgh ... belch, fart, glug.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, the state of the union. As we once again brave the all-too familiar crossroad of yet another five-year plan to nowhere, there is much debate about owner Ralph Wilson, and it breaks down into two basic schools:
1) He is trying to alienate Bills Nation to such an extent we finally say "No Mas!" as he pads the bottom line in anticipation of the inevitable sale/move to greener and inherently evil pastures (Toronto/L.A./Mexico City/Dubai).
2) We are blessed to have an owner who, unlike contemporaries Bud Adams, Bill Bidwill, Robert Irsay, Georgia Frontiere, Art Modell, and Al Davis, resisted 50 years of better offers and fought hard to keep the team in town, despite the fact that a decent plumber can afford a luxury box.
Bills fans are known far and wide for their devotion. The national economy may be a hot mess, but our local economy has always been a mess, yet the Bills sell out year after year regardless of the quality of the team on the field. Bills fans also happen to be smart. Take the infamous billboard erected this year imploring Wilson to make some changes. Very out of character -- Buffalonians tend to grit their teeth and take their medicine, but things have just gone too far.
Witness beloved badass legend Darryl Talley twittering his frustrations with the current team -- not driving his SUV through a stadium guardrail and beating up the whole team. No, the only linebacker to sport a Spiderman sleeve is twittering! That's how bad things are. As for the billboard, the "Fire Jauron" headline got all the ink, but the real truth lies in the fact that long-time personnel guru Tom Modrak was also listed on the infamous road sign. Therein lies the smart part.
Harsh? Not when a "best of" team built out of Bills picks in the 2000s couldn't win the Big Sky Conference. Modrak is nine years in on a ride to oblivion. Trust me, if you sucked that bad at your job, you'd have been lucky to make it through year two of your contract.
Drafts from hell
For those of you who aren't familiar with Modrak, it's understandable. If he had ever actually done something smart on the job, you might have noticed. No worries, he's just the guy who has run our draft and free-agent scouting for a decade, while not even living in Buffalo for a chunk of that time -- but I guess he can't be faulted for that. I mean, Matt Millen ran the Lions from his home office for years and that worked out, right?
Remarkable, but not as remarkable as using the Bills' No. 1 pick this year on yet another 173-pound defensive end while a franchise left tackle, Michael "Blind Side" Oher, sat there, ripe for the picking after we traded an A-plus left tackle to the Eagles for far less than market value. Before you know it, we are fielding a starting O-line buxom with street free agents and recently-elevated practice-squad scrubs. I don't mean to pick on Aaron Maybin. Who knows what the future holds, but I have every right to worry - we've blown our top picks forever. Granted, Nate Clements was pretty great back in 2001, but he ain't here no more, and from there it goes downhill fast:
2003: Willis McGahee -- with Dallas Clark and Larry Johnson still on the board. It took two years for McGahee to rehab and contribute, then he spent two more falling down behind the line of scrimmage on third-and-1, then took about five seconds to talk his way out of town chased by angry villagers with pitchforks.
2004 (a): Lee Evans -- flashes of brilliance, now a $9 million-a-year No. 2 WR.
2004 (b): J.P. Losman -- can you say reigning champion ... of the UFL!!!
2005: No first-rounder, thanks to the trade that brought us Losman (who, by the way, could well be better than any QB currently on our roster).
2006: Donte Whitner -- a starter, I guess that counts for something. But he was picked eighth overall, and when you consider the fact that Troy Polamalu was a No. 16 pick in his day, I start to lose that warm, gushy feeling. Let the record also show that Jay Cutler and Haloti Ngata were still on the board at positions of eternal need. Then we traded up again, Losman-style, to score the mighty, mighty John McCargo, a bust we later traded for a case of beer only to see him sent back to us. Still on the board at that late point in the first round: DeAngelo Williams, Nick Mangold, Marcedes Lewis and Joe Addai.
2009: Aaron Maybin -- doesn't start, has no sacks, YTD: eight tackles. Meanwhile, our lone Pro Bowler in three years, left tackle Jason Peters, was traded to the Eagles. Then we used Philly's pick to draft Eric Wood -- an impressive gamer, who unfortunately suffered a terrible injury in Jacksonville.
Then, of course, there is the litany of this decade's QB follies, which tells the other half of this tale:
Drew Bledsoe (had his moments, I guess ...)
Put 'em all together, and this is why I side with Bills Nation. They know all this talk of a coaching search is a red herring. We, like every other team in the NFL, need someone who can actually evaluate talent.
Oh, gee, Mike Shanahan granted us a meeting, might be open to the gig if we give him $10 million per year and a piece of the team? Um ... thanks? All this for a guy who inherited Elway, and is probably just using the Bills to drum up a better offer. I seem to remember Shanahan throwing gas on the fire of the Broncos fading fortunes by signing every single defensive lineman who wasn't good enough to make it with the Cleveland Browns.
Don't get me wrong, the man won some rings. It would be a big step up from where we are, but like most Bills fans, I would have been triply excited to hear a name like Ron Wolf flown into town and given the hard sell. I would drive to the airport myself and buy Ozzie Newsome dinner if he would grant us the time of day. Ditto Mickey Loomis. Ditto former John Butler protégé A.J. Smith, who has stocked the Chargers with tons of talented players.
It's all about the talent, baby. How about we take some of the $50 million it apparently will take to hire Shanahan and use it to build a time machine to go back and not fire Bill Polian? The man only went on to turn the expansion Carolina Panthers into a playoff team in about five minutes, then went on to build the Indianapolis Colts into a perennial playoff team and a Super Bowl champ. Alas, that ship has sailed. As soon as the Bills gig opened, the Colts signed Polian and his GM-in-waiting son to an extension.
Coach or GM, it's not going to be easy getting a top guy to come to Buffalo. There could be some openings in higher profile towns with teams that don't have precarious ownership futures and don't surrender a game to Toronto annually. (If you have any illusions that this counts as a home game, peep the Jets tilt this Thursday on NFL Network, and count the Bills jerseys in the stands. Last year against Miami, it took CBS three quarters to find one, but there were thousands of Dolphins threads.)
Dallas might be hiring and Washington is definitely hiring, but they come with super-meddlesome owners. Oakland is officially a forbidden zone reserved for intergalactic criminals and coaches with no other options, but big names could be eyeballing some more pliable situations in Cleveland, Chicago, Carolina and Houston.
As for the other rumored candidates, the Bills have already been shut out by Mike Holmgren and Jon Gruden. Bill Cowher showed some class by saying he won't interview for any job that has a coach currently in place. Other available guys who have actually taken teams to Super Bowls include Brian Billick, who won one with the Ravens, and Jim Fassel, a former NFL coach of the year. Fassel might be off your radar lately, but he just won the first -- you guessed it -- UFL championship. For my money, both are pretty impressive -- the mystery is how far these guys go if they don't come packaged with Ozzie Newsome and Ernie Accorsi.
Jim Haslett -- who was on the losing side of that UFL championship game -- has Buffalo ties, but not the kind of track record that gives you goose bumps. After watching him crawl into Tom Brady's skull Monday night, I would rather bring back former Bills head coach Gregg Williams, not that that's gonna happen. Mike Martz has thrown his hat in the ring, but he seems to drive everyone insane. Charlie Weis? Great O.C., is he a head coach? The crystal ball looks very murky.
Personally, when we strike out swinging at all the fancy names, I'd like to see them bring a guy like Russ Grimm to town. He got snubbed by the Steelers when they hired Mike Tomlin, joined fellow snub-ee Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona and helped turn the culture around but pronto. Steeler football is something I suspect would go over very well in Buffalo. Hell, at this point I'd settle for Steeler-adjacent.
When you hit your knees tonight, say a prayer for a gritty little town near a great big lake, because in typical Bills coaching search tradition, we are also hearing a low-cost option like Montreal Allouettes head coach Marc Trestman floated early and often. Keep your eye on this one, because it has my Spidey-sense tingling.