After losing four straight Super Bowls, and now having the longest playoff drought in all of sports, the Buffalo Bills franchise is often referred to as one of the worst, and the fans considered some of the most suffering. This emotionally-draining franchise has done quite a number on the fanbase as a whole. While Bills fans are some of the most loyal and passionate fans in the NFL, the years of shattered expectations, a revolving door of personnel, marketing pitches, and just overall mediocre-to-awful performances have taken their toll on their great fan base.
Years of Abuse
The emotional beating the team’s lack of success has rained down on its fan base isn’t noticeable on Sunday mornings in Orchard Park, where the flags are waving in the parking lots and the smell of BBQ is in the air. But if you look on Twitter during games, or when news about the team breaks, you can see the toll the drought has taken.
One of the most prevalent signs of the toll is the constant clamoring for other things, instead of what the team has at any given time. If a QB plays poorly, then the fanbase will immediately call for the backup QB, regardless of experience or if they are even qualified to take snaps in the NFL. If it appears that the coordinator didn’t put together a good game plan to attack the opponent, then the fans will demand he is fired and look up the most popular names of coaches on the market to replace them, or better yet, call for a past coordinator they demanded be fired years before! When a head coach gets a challenge incorrect, or mismanages the clock, then “get him out of here” or “he has no idea what he’s doing” comments are seen all over Twitter from many highly-qualified Madden experts, regardless of how long the coach has been with the team.
Each year and with each different regime the tolerance for mistakes, and even just bad luck, seems to get shorter and shorter. Granted, the Bills haven’t given the fans any signs of consistent improvement throughout the drought. However, we as fans need to try to remain calm and pragmatic before screaming out for guys like Jeff Tuel or Cardale Jones to take over as starting QBs for an NFL team. While it’s frustrating to watch an offense sputter or a QB miss a wide receiver you can see clearly is open on the wide-angle, overhead look on our TVs, we have to try to remember that things take time.
The Revolving Door of Change
If you look at other organizations that have done well consistently throughout the entirety of the Bills drought, you will see that they don’t often make many changes. When you look at the Bills’ coaching staff and front office changes since Wade Phillips’s team last made the playoffs, it is full of constant change. Nine coaches (on average, a new coach every 1.88 years) and six GMs (a new GM every 2.83 years) have made attempts to bring success back to Buffalo.
Gregg Williams: 3 years. Mike Mularkey: 3 years. Dick Jauron: 3.5 years. Perry Fewell: ½ year. Chan Gailey: 3 years. Doug Marrone: 2 years. Rex Ryan: 2 years. Anthony Lynn: 1 game.
Now we’re the Sean McDermott era, and though it is still a fledgling era, even by recent Bills coaches’ standards, some fans are already questioning him as a head coach due to his time management in Carolina (his second game as a head coach) and continued struggles on offense. The general manager list in this time period reads pretty much the same since John Butler left.
Tom Donahoe: 5 years. Marv Levy: 2 years. Russ Brandon: 2 years. Buddy Nix: 3 years. Doug Whaley: 4 years.
But now Brandon Beane is the man in charge.
All of this change at the two most important positions in the organization have also impacted other key parts of the Bills. The team has had 11 offensive coordinators (a new OC every 1.54 years) and nine defensive coordinators (a new DC every 1.88 years), each with his own scheme, and each scheme only fitting its new personnel to a widely-varying degree. Another frequent change has been the QB position. Some of the change has been due to injury, some due to poor play, and some due to mismanagement of players. The Bills have had 14 QBs start (on average, a new starting QB every 1.21 years) during the drought.
While some of the GMs had more time than coaches, the overlapping period of coaches and GMs resembles that constant revolving door. This perpetual change at the top of the organization is what leads to a lack of success on the field. Maybe all the coaches or GMs on the list weren’t good at their jobs and deserved to be let go, or moved on from, when they were. However, if you are constantly changing the schemes or visions for how you build a winning football team, then you will never actually do so. So many times during this drought the Bills’ GM and scouting department have drafted guys to fit particular schemes in which the coaching staffs operate, but then within a year or two those coaches are no longer there and an entirely new scheme comes in with the next staff, a scheme which doesn’t fit the players on the roster. So not only is there a constant change in coaches, but it causes a loss of, or mismanagement of, the actual talent they are trying to put together on the field.
Trust The Process
Like all things in life, “you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” So it’s not to say you can’t fire staff or a GM when you can clearly see that there is no way what they are doing is going to work. However, you need to be willing to have a shared vision for how you think a team should be built and keep a core of your front office and coaching staff together, working toward the vision, for a minimum of three to four full years. A total roster and culture turnaround won’t happen in a year or two; it’s something that takes time. You need to take a roster that was inherited from one entirely different regime and take at least a year to see what you can work with. From there you need to acquire the rest of a roster that will fit exactly what you are trying to do, which can take another couple of years, due to the limits of the salary cap. Then, those players have to be in the system and learn it and trust in each other. These things take time.
Herein lies the problem — between the emotionally beaten down Bills fans and the team. The fans feel they have given the time, seventeen long and painful years, to be exact. So every mistake, every tough loss, every missed WR or blown coverage, feels that much more frustrating. But we need to “trust the process” and allow this new regime the time it takes to put something together that will bring their vision for success to fruition. There may be some really ugly games during the learning phase. The coach may make some in-game decisions that make you pound your head against the wall. The front office may move on from players you think they shouldn’t. Just try to remember that success comes from consistency, and it takes time to build that foundation from scratch. If we continue on the path of constant change, then we will never lay a foundation for anything other than a mediocre organization that can’t seem to ever get it right. So the next time you call for the fan-favorite backup QB, or for a bigger-named coach, just remember that these guys have a plan in place and just need the time to see it through.