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On Sports

Bills would do well to replace Rex with Tom Coughlin

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On Sports
Rochester Business Journal
September 23, 2016

I thought the unraveling of the “Wrecks Ryan Error” would have taken a tad longer. I really did. I thought we’d be at least into November before having heated discussions about who should replace Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan. But after just two games, that topic has picked up steam on the talk shows and social media.

The season already is in peril. A 0-4 start seems a real possibility following two sloppy defeats and upcoming games against Super Bowl-contending Arizona at home and the division-dominating Patriots in New England. A 17th-consecutive season without a playoff appearance appears inevitable.

And poor Bills fans, who have shown the patience of Job, are supposed to believe that everything is going to be hunky-dory now that Ryan has been allowed to offer up offensive coordinator Greg Roman as a sacrificial lamb. So much for the new era at New Era Field. More like Same Old Bills.

If novice owners Terry and Kim Pegula really wanted to solve the problem afflicting their dysfunctional National Football League team, they would have made the tough call. They would have eaten the four years remaining on Rex’s contract and told him and his twin brother, Rob, to hop on their tandem bicycle and pedal away from One Bills Drive as fast as they could. They would have hired Tom Coughlin.

Instead, they’ve allowed Rex to make Roman the scapegoat—as if that will solve the problem. A day after the Bills’ supposedly repaired defense turned journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick into Tom Brady in a 37-31 loss to the New York Jets, they fired their offensive coordinator. Makes perfect sense, right? Defense stinks up the joint, so fire the offensive coordinator.

Now, I’m not saying Roman wasn’t part of the problem. The offense, despite scoring 24 of the team’s 31 points, appears to have regressed this season. And there have been numerous occasions these past 18 games when I’ve second-guessed Roman’s play-calling, particularly his decisions not to target wide receiver Sammy Watkins more. But he did follow his boss’s edict of establishing a “ground-and-pound” attack that led the NFL in rushing last season. And he did help quarterback Tyrod Taylor make a decent transition from understudy to starter.

I’m not naïve enough to think that a head coach is going to fire himself. Certainly not a head coach with a stadium-sized ego. That’s where the owner has to step in. But I wonder how good a read the Bills ownership has on its fans, particularly after Terry Pegula went on radio a few weeks ago and said he didn’t believe anybody was thinking about the team’s 16-season playoff drought. “In my mind,” he said, “the team hasn’t been to the playoffs in one year.” Yikes. The reality is I don’t know of anyone who follows the Bills who isn’t thinking about the post-season famine. And even though Pegula wasn’t around it for the first 14 seasons, he inherited this futility streak when he purchased the team.

The owners, fans and majority of my Western New York media peers were seduced by Sexy Rexy from the start. And I understand why. They were sick and tired of dealing with the losing narrative and the flimsy excuses offered by bland Bills coaches and general managers. Most Western New Yorkers were immediately smitten with Rex’s larger-than-life persona and his bold, profanity-laced proclamations that he wouldn’t be kissing Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl rings and that the Bills would be going to the playoffs right away.

But his shtick has gotten as old as a Chris Berman catchphrase. And so has the losing. After two fluky seasons in which he guided the Jets to AFC Championship games, Rex’s teams have not made the playoffs for five straight years and have gone 24-40. His squads have been undisciplined on and off the field, as evidenced by the rash of penalties and suspensions. To think working with his fifth different offensive coordinator in six seasons is going to dramatically change things is folly.

We were reminded again in the loss to the Jets that Rex is a mediocre game-day coach. With seven minutes remaining and the outcome still in doubt, he attempted to draw the Jets offside on a fourth-and-one at the New York 45. After the strategy failed, he spent a time out they could have used later, and went for it with an off-tackle play that was stuffed. The Jets then marched down the field for the touchdown that put the game out of reach.

I could provide more examples, but what’s the point? Nothing’s going to get better until he is gone.

As mentioned, I would hire Coughlin. I know he just turned 70, but I don’t care. The Waterloo native has the energy of someone 20 years his junior. He also owns three Super Bowl rings, knows how to beat Brady and Belichick, and knows how to instill discipline and organization. Yes, I’m aware the Giants finished out of the playoffs the past three seasons before politely asking Coughlin to step down. But that was more a case of General Manager Jerry Reese not doing his job, as well as some unfortunate circumstances, such as the Giants losing their only legitimate pass rusher, Jason Pierre-Paul, to that off-season fireworks injury.

Coughlin boasts a resume worthy of a Hall of Fame bust in Canton, Ohio. The Syracuse University alum and onetime Rochester Institute of Technology football coach is the 11th- winningest coach in NFL history. And the job he did building the Jacksonville Jaguars from scratch might be even more impressive than what he accomplished in 12 seasons with the Giants. In just the Jags’ second year of existence, he had them in the AFC Championship game.

Coughlin also would bring one other thing to the Bills: a sense of dignity. That’s been lost with the f-bomb dropping Ryan, whose lack of class was again laid bare in that cringe-inducing, team-produced documentary, “Rex and Rob Reunited.”

Bills fans have every right to be angry and impatient. They deserve better than a coach whose performance has often been obscene.

Watch award-winning Rochester Business Journal columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak analyze the Buffalo Bills on WROC-TV 8’s “Inside the Buffalo Blitz” Sundays at 11:30 a.m. and following games on News 8 at 11 p.m.

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