Cam’s Take: The Pegulas, Doug Whaley, and Rational Choice Theory


On the morning of April 30th, 2017, the day immediately following the conclusion of the NFL Draft, owner Terry Pegula made the decision that it was time to relieve general manager Doug Whaley and the rest of the scouting staff of their duties. The decision as to exactly why Whaley was fired remains up for debate, but many believe that the team’s performance under Whaley’s four-year tenure was merely mediocre. As Mike Rodak of notes, the team made the playoffs zero times with only one winning season, when Doug Marrone led the team to a 9-7 record. Marrone then chose an opt-out clause in his contract that let him collect $4 million in base salary and leave the team to pursue jobs elsewhere. Many Bills fans and players were left incredibly frustrated at Coach Marrone. Then came along the Pegula family who purchased ownership rights of the team and conducted a new head coaching search. Russ Brandon, the team’s president, informed The Pegulas that one of their candidates, Rex Ryan, should not leave the building. The Pegulas listened to Brandon’s advice, as a week later Ryan was hired as the head coach of the Bills. Whaley was left with a new head coach in the outspoken Ryan, who promised a playoff berth in his first season as Buffalo’s head coach. Whaley was not the one who chose the head coach, so when the team failed under the Ryan experiment in two seasons, many sympathized with Whaley. Yet others were skeptical of Whaley, since he remained devout in his faith of QB EJ Manuel, who was a first round draft pick in 2013, while Whaley served as assistant General Manager under Buddy Nix. Whaley also made the questionable move of trading up for WR Sammy Watkins in the first round of the 2014 draft. The team gave up multiple picks in order to switch with the Cleveland Browns, and Sammy Watkins proved to be a talented player, but for the past few seasons he has been injury prone. Analysts and fans argue that the team could have stayed at the no. 9 position and drafted WR Odell Beckham Jr., who has been a phenom for the New York Giants.

I can understand why fans argued for Whaley to stay, since he never had the chance to work with his own preferred head coach. Even head coach Sean McDermott was the choice of the Pegulas, so if Whaley had stayed, he would have been forced to work with McDermott, whether he liked it or not. In the mind of the Pegulas, however, it was time for Whaley to go. The scouting staff and personnel staff, including Kelvin Fisher and Jim Monos, had done their duties. Their assessments of players in this year’s draft were complete, and it was time for a new wave of personnel to be a part of the organization. The reason I sympathize with The Pegulas’ move is because of one theorem: Rational Behavior. Rational Behavior theory argues that decisions are made based on the assumption that the outcome results in the optimal level of benefit for an individual or group. Rationality means that the behavior makes logical sense. Furthermore, financial website Investopedia notes that “often the decision is made without significant emotional response over the choice”. Often in business decisions, emotions may play a factor, since it is human nature to avoid hurt feelings. However, desperate times call for desperate measures, and the 17 year playoff drought continues. Therefore, Terry and Kim Pegula felt the need to set emotions aside and inform Whaley of his departure.

As we all know, tastes are subjective and always changing, so someone’s opinion of what is rational might differ from someone else’s. While The Pegulas may feel that their choice is rational, others may feel that Whaley wasn’t given a fair chance, since he never had his own head coach of choice, and since two of the coaches with whom he cooperated were hard to deal with (Marrone and Ryan). Yet, others will argue that despite differences, the NFL is a results-oriented business based upon optimal outcomes. If the Buffalo Bills failed to make the playoffs under Whaley’s tenure, then Terry and Kim felt that they had seen enough. Rational Behavior revolves around satisfaction obtained from advantageous decision making. Whether Whaley was irrational or the Pegulas were irrational is a topic of discussion among Bills fans, yet one thing’s for certain: Whaley’s time in Buffalo is done.