Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley began his end-of-season news conference by admitting what everyone already knew: A 7-9 record was not good enough for ownership.
However, that was not the main curiosity from reporters, who probed the embattled general manager about his role in coach Rex Ryan’s firing last week, as well as why Whaley has now been tasked with shouldering the next head coaching search on his own. During Ryan’s hiring, Whaley was part of a committee that included owners Kim and Terry Pegula. Whaley would not say what his recommendation was to ownership back in 2015 when the Bills hired Ryan.
“I was told by my boss that I will no longer be working with Rex,” Whaley told reporters on Monday. “My role is not to figure out why, my role is to take that information and go forward and put this organization in the best possible light to win football games. So, for me, I did not ask.”
Whaley said that he found out Ryan was fired after both he and Ryan had a weekly conference call with the Pegulas. Ryan then asked if he could speak with ownership alone. Per Whaley, that is when he was let go.
A reporter told Whaley that he knew Ryan would be fired weeks ago and wondered why the Bills did not do it sooner.
“Then you had a lot more information than I did,” Whaley said. “I wasn’t privy to any part of Rex Ryan being fired until I heard from Terry Pegula.”
Whaley was then pushed even more on the notion that he had nothing to do with Ryan’s firing — one reporter actually went as far as to say “I’m actually trying to figure out what you (Doug Whaley) do for a living”.
On one hand, it is hard to imagine a general manager getting the responsibility of searching for a head coach on his own without having any input on dismissing the previous one, especially when, as Whaley said, Ryan was the one who recommended Anthony Lynn be the team’s interim head coach. On the other, Whaley maintained that the firing happened out of order, and that the Bills usually wait until the end of the season to evaluate their staff. That is when he would typically give his opinion.
“I look at it this way. I’m the GM of the football operations side. I was told by my boss that I would no longer be working with a certain person,” said Whaley while underlining the hands-off role he had Ryan’s firing. “My role is not to figure out why. My role is to take this information, go forward and put this organization in the best possible way to win football games. So for me, I didn’t not ask.”
End-of-year news conferences for losing teams are often tense, especially when general managers like Whaley are involved. Like a lot of other GMs, Whaley does not speak to the media on a regular basis, which causes a buildup of questions and, in some cases, frustration due to inaccessibility. That frustration works both ways. Whaley, who is likely absorbing a year’s worth of reports but wants to maintain his preference not to speak to the media, comes out for a year-end press conference already on the defensive.
In this case, it was a difficult forum to hash out what seems like a complex power structure. Whaley said that both he and Ryan reported to ownership separately, which can sometimes create a rift between coaches and management.
On Monday, it also produced one of the more interesting news conferences we’ve seen all year.
» Whaley added that he could see why Lynn has already been linked to the permanent position, but stressed that the Bills would conduct an “open search.” He also added that he may or may not continue to insist he has control over the 53-man roster. That will depend on the candidate.
» Whaley did not agree with the notion that the Bills would be squeezed up against the salary cap. He told reporters that the team would have anywhere from $10 million to $30 million in space this offseason.
» Whaley said he and Lynn spoke about the decision to bench Tyrod Taylor for the season finale against the Jets and the two of them were on the same page. Initially, Lynn painted the decision as a closed door “business decision,” which was made without his input.