Wednesday November 18th, 2009

Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson blew it Tuesday. Not because he fired coach Dick Jauron, who was 24-33 in three-plus seasons, including 5-14 in his last 19 games; because he failed to look at the real problem holding down his team: the absence of a proven personnel man to run his football operations.

Say what you will about Jauron's deficiencies -- and everything you say will probably be right -- but Jauron was playing against a stacked deck. If it weren't for Eric Mangini and the Cleveland Browns, we easily might be talking about the Bills as the NFL's most dysfunctional organization this year.


• They spent the entire offseason installing a no-huddle offense, then fired the coordinator a week before the season opener.

• They were unwilling to pay Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters the $11 million annually he was seeking and traded him to Philadelphia without first making sure they had a capable replacement. Langston Walker, who was moved from right tackle to fill the void, was so ineffective that he was cut five days before the opener.

• They had a chance to address the hole at left tackle in the draft, but rather than select highly regarded Mississippi tackle Michael Oher, who has started all season for Baltimore, they took Penn State edge rusher Aaron Maybin, whose next start and next sack will be his first.

By all accounts Russ Brandon, the team's first-year general manager, is a nice man. But Brandon's background is on the business side. He joined the organization in 1997 as its executive director of business development and marketing, and is largely credited with making sure the Bills kept fans in the seats even if they couldn't consistently put wins on the scoreboard.

Brandon always has had an interest in personnel and spent significant time picking the brain of the late John Butler, who after Bill Polian could be considered the best personnel man in franchise history. But studying at the side of a proven talent, and standing on the sideline in practice, does not make you a skilled evaluator of talent. And it shows on the field.

In the Bills' media guide this year it states: "Under Brandon's watchful eye, (the team signed free-agent WR Terrell Owens) and also acquired key offensive additions with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, C Geoff Hangartner and RB Dominic Rhodes, while free-agent cornerback Drayton Florence was signed to bolster the Bills' secondary."

Hangartner has been good, Florence has been inconsistent, Owens has been invisible (when not complaining on the sideline), and Rhodes was cut before the season. All of this speaks to a larger point: Wilson should not feel comfortable if Brandon is making the call in the 2010 draft and the Bills have a top-10 pick, as expected, and are looking for a quarterback.

The word in the building is that Wilson is reluctant to hire an established guy and give him total authority over football operations. He did so with Tom Donahoe from 2001-05 and is said to have felt burned in the relationship. The Bills had only one winning season and failed to make the playoffs during that time.

Wilson hired Marv Levy, the coach who took the Bills to four straight Super Bowls in the early '90s, to be his general manager from 2006-07 and did not have an official GM in 2008. Among the mistakes that were made during that time was signing offensive linemen Derrick Dockery and Walker to deals that totaled in the neighborhood of $75 million. Each lasted only two seasons.

Wilson needs to get over his fears and go out and find an established personnel executive before he hires a coach. At this point the franchise is rudderless, particularly when it comes to evaluating college prospects. Normally scouts look for specific types of players to fit their offensive and defensive systems. Right now no one knows what those are with the Bills.

So, go ahead Bills fans, celebrate the firing of Jauron. But unless things get straightened out at the top of the organizational chart, you'll simply be calling for the next guy's head after a year or two.

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