Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

30 Apr 2017

Bills Fire GM Whaley

What might be a denouement in As The Buffalo Bills Turn came today. The day after the conclusion of the 2017 NFL draft, the team with the longest playoff drought in the league fired general manager Doug Whaley. The rest of the scouting staff was also dismissed. Owners Terry and Kim Pegula will hire the next general manager, and decide after that how the front office will be structured. Both Whaley and new head coach Sean McDermott reported directly to the Pegulas, and we'll see who runs things now. It became clear after Whaley's bizarre post-season press conference something strange was going on on in Buffalo, but hopefully this will be a major step towards organizational clarity and the first playoff appearance this millennium.

Posted by: Tom Gower on 30 Apr 2017

37 comments, Last at 04 May 2017, 12:00pm by Noah Arkadia


by mehllageman56 :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 12:35pm

Wow. You fire the GM right after the season people. No one who had a hand in drafting their guys the last 3 days is still in the building, so they may just wasted all their draft capital.

by Mike B. In Va :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 12:57pm

It's pretty clear McDermott was running the draft, at least according to Bills insiders. Whaley lost the power struggle. The draft was still very good and addressed team needs, so I don't think they wasted their capital.

Having said that, many Bills fans wanted him gone because of his lack of long-term vision, and I can agree with that. I think he would be better as someone's Pro Player guy, because he's been very good at finding cheap players that do well.

by theslothook :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 1:14pm

What else in your opinion could the Bills have done? Hiring RR was a bad move in retrospect, but seemed defensible at the time.

The bills are a team with an overall decent roster but question marks at qb in a division with the NFL's overlords.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 1:49pm

Seemed defensible at the time? It was almost universally panned.

They had a fantastic defense that ran a very different scheme than RR, and a terrible offense. He was almost exactly the opposite of what they should have brought in.

They needed an offensive coach who would leave the defense alone. Instead they hired a defensive coach who has never been able to get an offense to work, and who felt the need to tear down an elite defensive unit and rebuild it.

by mehllageman56 :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 2:45pm

I don't know if pundits panned the Ryan hire, but this is exactly what they should have said. I'm not sure if you can blame Whaley for the Ryan hire though.

Quarterback isn't the problem people here think it is. The Dolphins made the playoffs with Tannehill, and Tyrod Taylor is more efficient than him. If the defense had played up to the previous level, they would have made the playoffs the last two years. I hope McDermott cuts Taylor, I'd rather the Jets had him than the guys they have now.

by theslothook :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 3:02pm

I think the view was - RR would supercharge the defense like Wade Philips did in Denver. TBH, I liked RR as a coach until his tenure with the Bills. His time with the Jets felt like he got all he could out of that roster.

How much you like Tyrod depends on the relative state of qbs in the league. He feels like a David Garrard who carved out a decent career when playing with a defense/run game heavy unit. That's fine and everything, but those models are really becoming relics of the past at this point. The game is all about pocket passing and Tyrod is pretty below avg there.

by Theo :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 3:26pm

I think RR is a good defensive coordinator, I don't think he's a good head coach.
But then again - how many good head coaches are there.

by Mike B. In Va :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 11:40am

Ironically, Tyrod is much, much better from under center than in shotgun. He's a better fit for the incoming offense than the outgoing one.

by Mike B. In Va :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 11:37am

The owners hired (and fired) Rexy without involving Whaley in the decision. They strongly influenced the McDermott hire. Whaley was, after all, inherited. I'm not in love with the decision, but the Pegulas clearly have their reasons.

If I were them, I'd be calling Scot McCloughan every five minutes until he answers. I don't think that's what they'll do, though, sadly.

As for the QB situation, I'll be very curious to see what happens with Tyrod this year. The Dennison/Shanahan offense really fits his skill set (especially given that most of it operates from under center, where Taylor is at his best), and they have the personnel to run it correctly. I doubt he's a GOAT candidate, but he was the QB of one of the more effective offenses last year, even if his personal numbers weren't as good. The tricky part will be winning enough games for a Wild Card spot, since you know who's winning the division.

by dbostedo :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 12:37pm

I'm curious about Taylor too... Buffalo's DVOA splits were interesting last year :

Offense : 9.6%, 9th
Passing : 7.9%, 19th
Rushing : 16.1%, 1st (with the second best team at 11.2%)

That looks to me like an offense with a good running QB, a la a good Vick year, or RGIII's first year (though I haven't actually compared them). It will be interesting to see how they utilize Taylor to improve the passing, and still try to keep that rushing game propped up.

by Mike B. In Va :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 11:09am

This is a good reason why I think the Bills O might actually improve this year:


Taylor has much better mechanics and rhythm from under center, which is the heart of the offense they'll be running.

by Mike B. In Va :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 11:09am

Double Post

by jackiel :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 12:48am

This is what bothers me about the situation in Buffalo. The GM and coach both report to the owner, which encourages infighting and disconnects between management and the coaches. This alone would make me wary of working in Buffalo, because you may get cut off at the knees. Do other teams have this reporting structure?

I agree. Taylor may break out this year.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 2:27am

I don't think the reporting structure is that important. I'd be more concerned by how functional/dysfunctional the owner is as they will then promote an organisation that follows those patterns.

by mehllageman56 :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 11:48am

A number of other teams have the same reporting structure, the Jets have it. That structure hasn't led to infighting in the Jets case, but both Bowles and MacCagnan were hired at the same time. Obviously the result on the field has been the same or worse, though.

by theslothook :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 1:17pm

This is the sort of move you expect from Haslam or Irsay on twitter late at night. Just weird.

The bills feel like a cautionary tale of what can happen to the Browns if they are not careful. At one point, the bills had a pretty good roster with a strong d line that never made it to the playoffs because of inconsistent qb play and a strong division rival. The talent meant the bills never bottomed out in the way the bucs or titans or 49ers have so they never got a chance to draft a real qb prospect.

Eventually, the talent aged, became too expensive and its a slow death.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 1:43pm

Absolutely understand wanting to fire Whaley. Absolutely do not understand firing him the day after the draft. Or the entire scouting staff.

by Tom Gower :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 1:45pm

Scouting contracts normally run until right after the draft. If you're changing the scouting staff, this is exactly the time it's done.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 1:51pm

I think the point is that if you don't trust your scouting staff, you shouldn't be letting them get involved in this year's draft.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 2:25pm

Are scouting contracts always year-to-year? Seems odd to me you'd have your entire scouting department on the same contractual schedule.

by Theo :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 3:28pm

...which makes no sense at all.
Contracts like these should end after week 17.

by dbostedo :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 5:44pm

But these are the people being paid to watch college talent and young NFL players and make moves and draft picks. That job starts in the off-season, and ends (largely) after the draft. If you fired them between week 17 and the draft, you've lost months of scouting information.

by Noah Arkadia :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 12:06am

This. The GM you can change after the season. It's the way it's normally done and it doesn't affect the draft that much, because he's the big picture guy. But if you fire your scouts after Week 17, you're toast. It would be like firing your coaches in July.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 1:18pm

I've pretty much come to the conclusion that I can accept this is an entirely logical and normal way to turn over your personnel department, and I'm just assuming it's a bad idea because it's Buffalo.

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 12:00pm

Well, the problem with firing the GM so late is that the GM also runs free agency and you probably want the new guy making FA and extension decisions. Firing the scouts make sense, the GM, not so much.

by mehllageman56 :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 2:38pm

No good GM prospect is going to want to go to the Bills after the way they handled it. Perhaps McDermott (who may not even be a good NFL coach-the Eagles defense wasn't great under him, and Rivera runs the Panther defense) did a ok job with this draft, but he will need a good group of scouts to even have a chance over the long run in Buffalo. If I'm a scout from another organization, why would I want to go there after what they did to Whaley? Fire him at the end of the season, hire a GM and coach at the same time. I thought the Bills' owner situation had improved, obviously I'm wrong. The Jets would never have pulled a stunt like this. Making me appreciate Woody Johnson is not a good look.

by mehllageman56 :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 2:42pm

When I suggest the Bills did ok in the draft, I'm being generous. I was glad they drafted TreDavious White because then the Jets wouldn't waste a pick on him. Zay Jones averaged 10 yards a catch over his college career; not worth a second rounder. Nathan Peterman was a decent pick in the fifth round. They did get an extra first rounder from KC in 2018, so that's a success, but if they don't put together a good group of scouts they'll just waste it too.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 2:45pm

People go to crappy organisations because there are a limited number of jobs. And generally you won't find the decent organisations like New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay needing new hires.

Second to that people who do want these kinds of job believe they are special and it couldn't happen to them. They believe they have the special sauce needed to turn a franchise round.

by mehllageman56 :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 2:47pm

They're more likely to get a better GM after the season. Now they're going to get the guys the other teams decided against.

Perhaps you are correct about the scouts, though. They'll take any job they can get, but a lot of them will be learning on the job.

by theslothook :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 3:05pm

I don't know what the salary bump is between GM and the next level or two down, but I suspect its a lot. Given that GM turnover feels less than head coach turnover, this opening is rare opportunity that someone of quality will flock for.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 4:23pm

Scott McCloughan's available and I'd say is worth hiring in an instant. Given that he's gone back to running his own scouting agency, I'm guessing it wouldn't be too hard to just hire them also.

Although I guess if the Bills had wanted this they'd have already done the deal?

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 10:12am

Green Bay is hiring new people all the time. In the last few years, the front office has lost John Schneider, John Dorsey, and Reggie McKenzie. They probably would have lost Eliot Wolf this offseason but many think he will take Ted Thompson's place in GB when TT retires in the next 2-3 years.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 10:35am

Thanks steve.

I guess you're right that good organisations do get raided.

That said, Green Bay hasn't hired a GM since Ted Thompson took over in 2005. Reggie McKenzie had to go to the Raiders - a team without a winning season in a decade to become a GM.

Over in Baltimore, Ozzie Newsome has been the GM since 2002.

Meanwhile the Bills have had Tom Donahoe (2001-05), Marv Levy (2006-2007), Russ Brandon (2008-09), Buddy Nix (2010-12), Doug Whalley (2013-17).

My underlying point is that it's a lot easier to become a GM or HC of a crappy franchise.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 2:47pm

By firing him / the scouts after the draft you avoid any possibility of them disclosing your draft board to another organisation.

by mehllageman56 :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 2:55pm

If McDermott was running the draft, they might not have followed the draft board Whaley's scout created. You are right that this is an issue; the Trail Blazers did this to GM Kevin Pritchard a couple of years ago, and that was the reasoning they used for keeping him through the draft. They didn't fire the entire scouting staff though. They also fired Pritchard's replacement a year later. So employee beware.

by billprudden :: Sun, 04/30/2017 - 2:39pm

The stories, Ryan-related and otherwise, that he can tell...

by Steve in WI :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 1:00pm

How common is it to fire a whole scouting staff? It seems like there would be guys whose knowledge or specialization might be useful across regimes. And obviously this is the least bad time to turn over your entire scouting staff, but I am sure there are activities taking place year-round and I wonder how starting from scratch will impact the team in the next few years.