The Pegula’s probably didn’t anticipate beginning their first offseason as NFL owners with a drama quite like the one that the Buffalo Bills’ former head coach and quarterback Doug Marrone and Kyle Orton dropped in their lap. Fortunately, the Sabres provided a recent experience with front office shake ups (or downs depending on how you view it) that provided a template for dealing with front office chaos.
If you subscribe to the belief that every crisis presents an opportunity with which to gain wisdom, then perhaps it is reasonable to think that two crises presents a chance for nirvana? I suspect at the very least, repeated crises could remind us of that old saying, “that which you do not learn from you are doomed to repeat”.
When the Pegulas bought the Sabres, there were similar “adjustment pains” that both ownership and staff experienced. It takes time for “newbies” to adapt to the pace of change, and the realization that the sports industry has unique characteristics that make it a challenge to succeed even with the best of intentions and qualifications.
The Sabres are barely one step ahead of the Bills in terms of putting the pieces in place in terms of developing a championship program. Some vital time was lost at the beginning of the Pegula era, but was quickly dealt with by bringing in highly qualified people like Ted Black and Tim Murray.
However, that wasn’t without a strange few months with Pat Lafontaine showing up on the scene. Then he pulled a magical disappearing act after a few months, leaving behind nothing but some vague references to wanting to get back to his office job with the National Hockey League.
It’s been stated by different sports media sources that Lafontaine was temperamental and had a history of walking away from jobs. Interesting how similar that situation seems to be with what Marrone just did walking out on the Buffalo Bills.
However, the similarity seems to stop dead in its tracks there. Lafontaine is at least beloved by some people, and Marrone? If he has any friends left, they likely got phone calls from Jim Sexton (his agent) this week egging them on to be interviewed by the media and help repair what’s left of Marrone’s tattered professional reputation.
So the Pegulas now enter Door #2 to find that it looks exactly like what was behind Door #1. What could they possibly learn from their experience with the Sabres that will help guide them as they begin their legacy as NFL owners?
It’s apparent that they did not wish to spend another first year with a franchise mired in uncertainty at the head coaching position. When Marrone allegedly asked for an extension, he gravely miscalculated their response. Marrone obviously (pun intended) neglected to consider the Pegulas recent history with the Sabres.
Unlike Marrone, Lindy Ruff was a long time and beloved coach in Buffalo. However, guys like Lindy and Andy Reid, as competent as they are, can grow stale in one job. Sometimes for whatever reason, it’s time to move on.
When it became clear to the Pegulas that Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff were not the answer, they acted quickly and boldly to bring about change. As this situation is still fluid, it’s unknown how successful these decisions will be in the future.
However, the Pegulas were not going to be bulldozed by an apparently arrogant, petulant, and demanding control freak in Marrone, who had likely already started orchestrating his “ascension” to the Jets. Funny thing, for all the controlling that Marrone appears to demand in his life, he can’t seem to keep people from coming out and ripping him to shreds in excoriating fashion.
To refer to Marrone as polarizing may be an understatement. It appears he may have reaped what he sowed. And sadly, so many assistant coaches and staff will pay the price for his abject arrogance. His behavior was quite stunning, considering the job he walked away from, and the team he quit on.
Many people outside of Western New York simply see this latest fiasco with Marrone as just another chapter in the sad sack life of a Bills fan. What they don’t realize is that this is not the “same old Bills”, not by a long shot.
These Bills are being led by people who are committed and care about the community where their teams reside. They are prepared to fully invest whatever resources necessary to bring a championship to the region, and a winning legacy to replace decades of despair.
However, even the best of intentions can be thwarted in a variety of ways. Finding the right people to trust is probably the greatest challenge the Pegulas face. Even if you are fortunate to identify the right people, they also have to be able to work together, and that is not always easy to accomplish.
The strengths I see in the Pegulas as far as stewards of our sports teams are many, and it comes from both their professional achievements and personal character as evidenced by what they have already done to revitalize downtown Buffalo. They continue to demonstrate what can happen when good people come together.
And, that is exactly the point I wish to make. Good people coming together is a great start. However, you also have to have the right people. Huh?
By “right people”, I’m referring to the right combination of people that can work together in a harmonious fashion. A shared vision is best achieved when all parties are congruent with each others values.
When an NFL franchise changes ownership, the vision of the organization must change to reflect the differences in core values from previous ownership. This may appear obvious but is much more difficult than it seems.
For instance, how does one go about identifying how well the core values of long time owner like Mr. Wilson match up with those of the Pegulas? It may seem like an easy transition, but I believe it is anything but easy to accomplish.
How do you assess staff to identify whether or not they have a vision congruent with new ownership? Do you fire people and ask them to re-apply for their jobs? What about offering early retirement for those who do not seem to possess this shared vision?
If we know anything about the Pegulas, it is that they are sensitive toward and respectful for the needs of their employees. They have the difficult task of transitioning employees to their vision, or finding a suitable way to facilitate their departure. This is certainly not an easy task to accomplish over the course of a few months during an off season.
Of course the most important task they face at this moment is hiring a new head coach. This will be an enormous first step toward bringing their vision together, and much is riding on the choice as this team is on the precipice of making the playoffs. The right person could bring quick success.
The wrong person will set them back and likely require another “five year plan”. The best thing they can do at this point is trust their instincts. They didn’t get to where they are in life by being bad judges of character. It’s trickier when you are filthy rich, but they seem to be negotiating their way just fine so far.
However, like others, I hope they think twice about hiring a “Czar”, unless it is someone to replace Russ Brandon. Remember the old saying “too many cooks spoil the broth”?
There can be a point at which it becomes too congested at the top of the organizational chart. That can create chaos trying to keep the lines of communication and the vision clear, along with far too many permutations that end up leading to group dysfunction.
Fans should be encouraged by the painstaking manner in which the Pegulas are conducting this head coaching search. No one wants to be doing this again in two or three years, so let this be as comprehensive a process as possible. Let’s allow them the space and freedom from criticism for being thorough.
Hopefully, they will be able to identify the right person who will share congruent values regarding their vision for the Buffalo Bills. More than anything, both the Sabres and Bills need stability in their respective front offices for that to have a chance to happen.