There Were Once Great Men…

Wilson_Ralph_04_630We’ve heard all week about the saga involving Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, and the Baltimore Ravens.  It seems to have put the game of football as a whole at a cross roads.  Goodell has dug in while many have called for his resignation.  He’s ordered an internal investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller but to many it isn’t enough.  There has been talk of repercussions, sponsors dropping the league, maybe even a boycott.  Maybe we just need a reminder that there were great men that brought it this sport and maybe there could be more great men who can help lead it into the future.

This Sunday will mark the first game in Buffalo Bills history that it’s founder Ralph C. Wilson won’t be around for.  He died this past March 25th at the age of 95 after 54 years of owning one of the city of Buffalo’s two major sports franchise.  Wilson originally wanted to get into the AFL in the late 50’s with the new franchise in South Florida but when the Miami team went to someone else he told AFL founder Lamar Hunt to “count me in with Buffalo”.  Over 50 years later when someone mentions the city of Buffalo football is surely brought to mind.  The passion for their football team is ingrained as a way of life in Western New York.  Wilson birthed that way of life when he founded the Bills in late 1959.

For almost 20 years the vultures have been circling around the Buffalo Bills franchise.  As far back as the early 90’s, in the middle of the Bills’ heyday as 4-time AFC Champions, there were rumors that the team would be moved to Los Angeles.  By the end of the Bills’ 4-year Super Bowl run Wilson was already 75 years old and the line of succession had already been set – Ralph Wilson’s family would sell the team upon it’s death.  Big wigs from Los Angeles, Toronto and other large metropolises sniffed around the Bills for 20 years but Ralph stand firm on his plan to hold onto the team, in Buffalo, until his death.  After his death this past March his hand-picked trust set out to carry out his plan to sell off the Bills with one very specific instruction – that the franchise does not, under any circumstance, leave Western New York.  That’s how earlier this week it came to pass that Ralph C. Wilson’s $25,000 investment in 1959 turned into a $1.4 billion entity and it did so with the team’s long term security in Buffalo as strong as it’s ever been.

wilson-ralph-kelly-jimAnd so for the first time in two decades fans of the Buffalo Bills will be going to the stadium this Sunday with the knowledge that their children will be able to come to the games and watch their home town Bills when they are their age with kids of their own.  If that’s no reason to love this game than I don’t know what is.  It’s important to remember that for every Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, and Jerry Jones there is a Bob Kalsu, a Pete Rozelle, a Ralph Wilson.  Guys like Wilson literally gave the NFL to us fans over his many years of service.  Hell, we don’t need to boycott the NFL.  We just need to take it back.

Erik Venskus

Breaking Down The Bills New Year’s Day Press Conference

I am going to get to the Bills coaching search later tonight but I wanted to share some thoughts on the much bally-hooed press conference at One Bills Drive on New Year’s Day.  One thing is for sure – I’ve never seen such a divide between the national media and the local media regarding a move as I did following the news of the Buffalo Bills re-structuring of their front office.

Russ Brandon took control of the Bills following his press conference yesterday

Russ Brandon took control of the Bills following his press conference yesterday

I can see both sides of the argument.  The local guys have a “I’ll believe it when I see it” mentality when it comes to any significant change within the organization and to be frank the Bills have earned that reputation in the area.  On the flip side the national guys are reacting very positively to the elevation of new Team President Russ Brandon as well as the pending elevation of current assistant GM Doug Whaley.  You can’t really criticize either side.  Russ Brandon is seen by many in the Buffalo area as a mainstay of the failed past decade – he’s been with the Bills for 17 years and had a stint as GM in 2009 before hiring Buddy Nix to do the job full-time.  There is also skepticism regarding how much will actually change.  National reporters see the other side of the coin – they see Brandon as an up-and-coming exec who is hungry to make his mark and is an intelligent and innovative mind.  Whaley has a great reputation around the league as well.  We’ll see which of them turns out to be right in the end.  Here are a few personal takeaways from the PC:

  • Russ Brandon was asked several times if things will be different with Ralph Wilson no longer needing to sign off on his decisions.  He deflected all those questions which could mean one of two things – either he doesn’t plan on changing up too much and didn’t want to admit it or he realizes the mistakes that Ralph was making and plans to change them yet didn’t want to throw the guy under the bus the sentence after he compared him to a father figure.  I’d lean toward the latter because the media gave him a chance to back away from the pointed comments about the lack of direction for the Bills for 13 years but he stood by him.  Then there is this…
  • Brandon announced a state of the art “analytical team” in the front office to try and take advantage of work done by the likes of web sites like Football Outsiders or Cold Hard Football Facts, football sabre-metrics if you will.  Are we to believe that it is coincidence that Brandon rolled this thing out the same day that Ralph handed him the keys to the car?  Questions – Who is running this new team?  Who has the front office added to contribute to this new team?  How will this new team be structured?  The answer is no one knows yet because Russ Brandon just rolled it out yesterday.  It has all the makings of something that Brandon had in his back pocket waiting for his opportunity to take over.  Let’s face it, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that Ralph Wilson is as old school a football guy as it gets.  He’s 94 years old.  He’s been involved in football operations since the advent of the AFL.  Just look at his last 3 personnel hires – Tom Donahoe, Marv Levy, Buddy Nix.  All old school football guys.  An innovative analytical team is the opposite of old-school football.  There will be big changes in the Bills’ personnel department.
  • Buddy Nix will relinquish his role as Bills GM in the near future

    Buddy Nix will relinquish his role as Bills GM in the near future

    Another question that went unanswered was when Buddy Nix will officially turn things over to Doug Whaley.  Nix played southern dumb, which he does well, and basically said eventually and didn’t give much more.  It’s clear that there is a plan in place and it will happen sooner than later.  It seems like it’s information that a head coaching candidate is going to hear before the media does.  Conventional wisdom says that he stays on through the draft which has always been his bread and butter.  I would not be shocked to see him go into semi-retirement and continue to work with the Bills through a few more drafts.

  • Brandon exuded aggressiveness during the PC and he and the football ops team have come out aggressive in their head coach search.  They headed right to Arizona where they will conducted at least 3 interviews before conducting another in Denver this weekend.  I’ll write more on the coaching candidates later tonight.

The future remains to be seen in Buffalo but one thing is certain – change is definitely coming.  People who are expecting the same old Bills will likely be disappointed.  Now let me be clear, I am not necessarily saying that the Bills will be better but it’s pretty clear from where I’m sitting that things are going to be different from here on out at One Bills Drive.

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Ralph Wilson Steps Down As Bills Team President

Ralph Wilson will step down from an active role in the Bills organization

Ralph Wilson will step down from an active role in the Bills organization

For the first time in the history of the Buffalo Bills franchise Ralph Wilson will hold no title other than owner and will not be involved in the decision making process as the franchise turns its eyes to 2013.  It was an inevitable move for the 94-year old owner, new Team President Russ Brandon had represented the Bills at the last few NFL owner meetings, but it is still a monumental step for a guy who was involved in the decision making process as recently as this Monday when the team decided to fire head coach Chan Gailey.

Wilson will go down as one of the better owners in NFL history.  He was instrumental in getting the AFL off the ground in the late 50’s and even helped fund the Raiders and the Patriots to prevent them from going out of business before the AFL took off.  His team went to 4 straight Super Bowls in the 90’s and were the winningest team in the AFC during that decade.  Wilson already has a spot in the NFL Hall Of Fame in Canton, Ohio, elected in 2009.  Things haven’t gone so well over the past decade however.  Wilson drove former coach Mike Mularkey out of town when he continually meddled in the business of Mularkey and former GM Tom Donahoe.  He also made the ill-advised mistake of bringing former Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy back as GM in a move that set the Bills back for several years as a result.

New Bills President Russ Brandon will try to take the Bills in a new direction

New Bills President Russ Brandon will try to take the Bills in a new direction

Russ Brandon has been heavily involved as Bills CEO since 2010 but now he is the man in charge and the buck stops with him.  You can tell that the shackles have come off as Brandon has already made plans to take the Bills in a different direction.  He is making plans to install a new “analytical team” into the front office which is basically the football version of sabre-metrics.  He also has made Assistant GM Doug Whaley the ‘GM-in-waiting” and rumor around Buffalo is that the weight for Whaley could end as early as this April after the draft.  Whaley will also be involved in all of the pending coaching interviews.

The course is clear in Buffalo – there is a new team president and it will be followed by a new General Manager and a new Head Coach.  The head coaching search is already shaping up to be very interesting – I’ll get into that tomorrow.  One thing is for sure is that coaches aren’t running away from the opportunity to coach the Bills which is progress from 3 years ago.  There has been a lot of broken promises and false hope presented to Bills fans over the years and the only way they win the trust back is to win more games but one thing is for certain.  For the first time in the franchise history Ralph Wilson is nothing more than a figurehead.

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What’s a whiteout at the Ralph without Ralph?

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/buffalo-bills-owner-pro-football-hall-famer-ralph-wilson-enjoying-rebirth-team-article-1.972680

 

Did you really think that there was going to be a whiteout at Ralph Wilson stadium without Ralph Wilson?  Hell no.

john_wawrowJohn Wawrow

#Bills owner Ralph Wilson is on hand for first time this season. Just pulled up in a golf cart at midfield.
Twitter @ErikVenskus

Ralph Wilson on Al Davis

Al Davis and Ralph Wilson were friends for over 50 years.  They were an odd couple, Davis the cooky and eccentric Brooklyn guy and the stern and business-like Wilson from blue-collar Detroit.  Wilson, who will be 93 in November has outlived another friend.  Here is the official statement from Ralph Wilson after the passing of Davis this morning.

“I am deeply saddened with the news of the passing of Al Davis. Al and I were very good friends for many years and I admired his innovative approach to the game of football.  Al had a great impact on the American Football League that carried over to the National Football League after the merger and his competitive spirit embodied our sport.  Al’s Raiders may not have won every game, but you knew that you were in for a tough, hard-fought contest every time you played them, regardless of the score. I want to extend my deepest sympathies to Al’s family, friends, the Raiders organization and Raiders fans everywhere.”

Here is the link from buffalobills.com: http://www.buffalobills.com/news/article-2/Statement-from-Ralph-Wilson-Jr/72e658f3-e618-4a9b-835e-9438ccf34885

Twitter @ErikVenskus