ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – After weeks of rumors, speculation and mysterious reports the hammer was finally dropped at One Bills Drive as the team announced Tuesday that Rex Ryan had been fired from his post as Bills head coach. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has been named Ryan’s replacement as interim head coach for Week 17. He’ll be the Bills ninth head coach since 2000, tied for the second most coaching changes in that span.
“I spoke with Rex earlier today and we mutually agreed that the time to part ways is now,” owner Terry Pegula said in a press release. “These decisions are never easy. I want to take this opportunity to thank Rex for all his efforts and wish him all the best moving forward.”
Ryan’s brother, Rob, who was brought on this past off-season as an assistant head coach to the defense has also been relieved of his duties.
“Kim and I and our entire Bills organization share in the same disappointment and frustration as our fans, but we remain committed to our goal of bringing a championship to Western New York,” Pegula added.
Ryan exits with a lofty $16.5 million remaining on the five-year contract he signed ahead of the 2015 season, money he will ultimately receive regardless of his departure. Upon boisterously accepting the job in January 2015 and making lofty promises of “building a bully” and ending the Bills playoff drought, Ryan has guided the Bills to a disappointing 15-16 record in two seasons at the helm.
Rumors of Ryan’s firing were first reported literally minutes before the Bills kicked off with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14, a game that featured a 236-yard rushing performance from Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. Ryan claimed at the postgame press conference that he knew nothing of the rumors until the media had informed him, and continued to deny having had any conversations with ownership about it for the better of two weeks. There may have been no better time to cut ties with Ryan than after that loss to the Steelers, but with the playoffs still a small possibility no changes were made.
The common belief from players within the locker room, most of which praised Ryan for being a players coach, was that if they won out and gave themselves a chance at making the postseason, Ryan’s job may be saved. Instead a 34-31 overtime loss to Miami this past Saturday, in which for a third time this season an opposing running back accumulated over 200 yards rushing and Ryan elected to to punt with just four minutes left in overtime, sealed his fate.
Upon his arrival Ryan took over a defense that ranked in or just outside the top ten in most statistical categories in 2014. Most notably they were the NFL’s top unit in terms of sacks (54). At the conclusion of the 2015 campaign Buffalo’s defense dropped all the way to 19th in total yards allowed and compiled a measly 21 sacks. Ryan’s exotic 3-4 scheme had failed miserably in year one and he put the blame on players not buying in. Year two began with an “All in” slogan, and promises that the defense would be better. 15 games later they once again rank 19th in total yards allowed, as well as 28th for rushing yards per game (133.5), 23rd in third-down defense (40.6 percent) and 20th for red zone defense (56.0 percent). Buffalo went from doing everything well on that side of the ball, to almost nothing well at all.
Ryan leaves the Bills with a career coaching record of 61-66 including his six years coaching the New York Jets. He’s missed the playoffs six consecutive seasons.
Because Ryan was present at his usual postmortem Monday press conference, it appeared that the Pegula’s wouldn’t make any decisions regarding the head coach until after the Bills Week 17 meeting with the Jets. However, Ryan’s infatuation with Tyrod Taylor may have played a role in his early dismissal.
The Bills tried to be proactive back in August by signing Taylor to a team friendly six-year, $92 million extension before the season started. The deal includes a built in team-option for 2017, which will guarantee Taylor $30.75 million over the next two years if Buffalo picks it up. There’s a major dilemma in that if 27-year-old were to get seriously injured before then, the Bills would be on the hook for that entire sum of money. Ironically enough, just yesterday Ryan announced that Taylor would remain the starting quarterback in their meaningless Week 17 matchup with the Jets.
Low-and-behold about an hour after Ryan’s firing was announced ESPN’s Adam Schefter revealed that the Bills would be benching Tyrod Taylor in place of E.J. Manuel.
Buffalo benching Tyrod Taylor is sign of uncertainty with him. Can’t risk injury when he is due a $15.5M bonus and $30.75M gtd if hurt.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 27, 2016
It’s a business decision and what’s more interesting is that according to NFL Newtorks’ Ian Rapoport, the Bills brass apparently views Manuel’s start on Sunday as a tryout.
#Bills have a decision to make on QB Tyrod Taylor. But also on EJ Manuel. I’m told this will function as a tryout for Manuel for 2017.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 27, 2016
Sitting Taylor for fear of injury makes complete sense from a business standpoint, but if the Bills truly consider Manuel’s start in Week 17 an open tryout for 2017 – despite turning down his fifth year option this past off-season – it sends a very telling message of how they view Taylor.
Just five days ago general manager Doug Whaley told WGR 550 that they’ll wait until the end of the season to make a decision on Taylor’s option, which this move clearly contradicts.
Can’t say either of these moves are all that surprising. They’ve been reported for several weeks now and finally came to fruition, perhaps a week sooner than expected, at least for Rex’s firing. I’ll start there.
When these rumors first came out it made complete sense. Ryan came to Buffalo promising playoffs and bullies and in two years couldn’t keep either. The Bills defense, a powerhouse in the two seasons before Ryan, has been reduced to a feeble shell of itself. Over the last week though I’ve wavered on it simply because the Pegula’s preached continuity at the end of last season and coaching changes can often have the reverse effect that you’d think. Instead of getting the team going in the right direction, it can instead cause problems with personnel and in the locker room. That constantly changing culture can have a drastic impact on the players.
Then came Saturday and I think the way in which Buffalo lost – in overtime, with Rex being conservative and Jay Ajayi rushing for 200 yards AGAIN – it was the final nail in the coffin. Had Buffalo won out, I do believe some type of discussion would have been had over whether or not to give him at least one more year, but it’s hard to justify bringing him back when the side of the ball he claims to excel in, has only regressed. If the players truly cared about fighting for Ryan’s job, they didn’t do much to show it on the field.
Now an interesting dilemma awaits the Bills this off-season in choosing a new head coach. Obviously promoting offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn makes the most sense right now, he’s been interviewed for head coaching jobs numerous times throughout his career and has been linked to some already this upcoming off-season. Whether or not Buffalo’s front office views him as the long-term solution remains to be seen. Last week, a report from Pro Football Weekly told of sources who claim the Pegula’s have shown a lot of interest in bringing on 70-year-old Tom Coughlin, who served as the New York Giants head coach for 12 seasons before resigning after 2015. There are plenty of other coaching candidates out there as well from Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, to Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Whatever direction the Bills decide to go, the team clarified Whaley, who’s job is safe, will lead the search.
As far as Taylor is concerned, his benching in favor of E.J. Manuel is a telling move by the Bills brass. Yes, it’s a business decision because they don’t want to have to pay him $30.75 million if he get hurt next week. But that leads me to believe that they don’t feel comfortable picking up the option at all. If Ian Rapoport is accurate in saying that Manuel’s start will be used as a tryout for 2017, that says all we need to know about how they see Taylor, even after the best passing performance of his career. You don’t bench your starter to give the backup a tryout if you’re sold on your starter being the team’s quarterback moving forward. And you certainly don’t worry about the money you owe him counting against you if you’re convinced he’s the guy either.
Now that doesn’t mean the Bills won’t look to bring the 27-year-old back if they come to realize Manuel isn’t a viable option and there’s no one else on the market better than Taylor, but it’s unlikely to be on the current six-year, $92 million deal they agreed upon back in August. Question is will Taylor want to come back if he feels undervalued and underappreciated?
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