Carolina Panthers GM Marty Hurney hadn’t cleaned out his office when Bills fans began drawing a parallel between two teams suffering through miserable seasons. Hurney was fired after watching his team lose for the fifth time in six games while Buddy Nix remained in Buffalo after his team lost three of its last four.
The Panthers have a 9-29 record since the start of the 2010 season, worst in the NFL. They are 6-10 in their past 16 games, which passes for progress in Buffalo, and moping through another year. Hurney was given the heave-ho in a desperate attempt to turn around a miserable season with 10 games remaining and little to lose.
Hurney built a few good teams but more forgettable ones. Under his watch, they made the playoffs three times, reached two conference championships and a Super Bowl. Does anyone really need a reminder of when the Bills last reached the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl?
The Bills have a 13-26 record since 2010, the first full season under Nix and coach Chan Gailey. Buffalo has a 4-12 mark over its last 16 games, which many view as grounds for dumping Nix or Gailey sooner than yesterday. It would be a bold move, certainly.
Would it be the right one?
No, at least not yet.
Firing anyone wouldn’t solve anything this season. The Bills have nine games remaining, and blowing up the staff would only make matters worse. And that includes defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, who has moved up a few spots in the firing line while running the second-worst unit in the league.
Look, they’re all big boys. They don’t need me defending them, and by no means is that my intention. But the Bills had no way of knowing Mario Williams would become a monumental flop. Decisions to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Williams and Stevie Johnson made sense at the time they were made.
The Bills’ problems fall almost exclusively at the feet of underachieving players. That includes the aforementioned veterans, plus safety George Wilson and anyone who has lined up at linebacker or cornerback. Nix has little depth at wide receiver, a quarterback who doesn’t scare anyone and no backup to threaten him.
It was the same way last year with one major difference.
A year ago, the Bills took great pride in winning with a bunch of no-name players who overcame long odds and stuck together. Whether it was caused by the big contracts or marginal success somehow going to their heads, their cohesiveness is missing. Too many players are going in separate directions, leading to a lack of trust.
Mario Williams, a beast when he played in Houston, was the best player available on the free-agent market and landing him was considered Nix’s greatest achievement since he became general manager. Unknown was how Williams would handle becoming the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history and how he would affect their chemistry.
I’m always a little skeptical of players who leave promising teams for ridiculous money from teams going nowhere. It tells me they’re more interested in making big bucks than winning big games. That appears to define Williams. The Bills have given him star treatment that he hasn’t earned, and he has alienated several of his teammates.
The Bills don’t need drastic changes in management or coaching. They need a drastic change in their collective attitude. The Bills are stuck with Williams, and he’s stuck with them. He can still draw something positive from the season assuming he and his teammates can get motivated between now and January.
Chris Kelsay did the Bills a favor the other day when he rattled a few cages, but they need more from everybody. Gailey needs to improve his play-calling and regain confidence from players who have lost faith. The Bills need more games in the 4-3 defense before making an accurate assessment of Wannstedt.
The clock is ticking. Another terrible season would be grounds for firing the general manager, the coach and anybody else in the organization. They could restart the process because, like the Panthers now, they would have nothing to lose.
Here’s to the Giants
Count me among many who will be leaning toward the Giants and their cast of characters to beat the Tigers in the World Series. San Francisco, looking for its second title in three years, won all six elimination games in the postseason.
The Giants are a terrific story. Ryan Vogelsong bounced around the minors for the better part of 15 years before establishing himself as a big-league pitcher. MVP candidate Buster Posey looks like the kid who bags your groceries. Right fielder Hunter Pence has the worst swing in baseball.
And they’re doing it without Melky Cabrera, who led the big leagues with a .346 batting average when he was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.
The Giants’ participation in the World Series means more entertainment while watching injured reliever Brian Wilson’s antics in the dugout and bullpen. Heaven knows what’s growing in his beard, but pretty soon he’ll be pulling out Andre Dawson.
Bettman’s memo no help
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made yet another error in judgment last week with one of his infamous memos. The latest one gave permission [see: encouraged] to owners and GMs to speak to locked-out players about the league’s last offer for a new collective bargaining agreement.
Bettman vowed heavy fines for management types who mentioned a syllable about the CBA before telling them, essentially, to talk some sense into the players. If he was trying to infuriate players even more, he succeeded. At some point, owners need to seriously question whether he’s looking out for their best interests.
The league is claiming the memo was a non-factor, but players were hardly blowing it off. To them, it was a major factor. It was another sign of sleaziness and the latest reason for players to become more entrenched in their battle with the league.
Bettman has given the NHLPA until Thursday to agree to the latest proposal before kicking games off the schedule. By the sounds of things, there’s a better chance of the two sides striking a deal on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013.
More on Monaco
Williamsville South is still looking for a varsity basketball coach to replace Al Monaco, who was fired for, wait, why was he fired? The job has been posted for weeks within the district with no response. Now, they’re looking for help from outside the district.
You can only wonder whether prospective coaches aren’t interested in taking over for Monaco, whose success rivaled his popularity. Or maybe they’re reluctant to work under Superintendent Scott Martzloff, who in less than two years has appeared intent on running his own empire. Or maybe it’s a combination of both.
How about Martzloff coaching the team? He can handle parents’ petty complaints, give kids equal playing time and make sure everybody is happy.
Martzloff, a former basketball player, is nearly 7 feet tall. Maybe he can help the big men. Someday, he might even act like one.
Something to Ponder
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder revealed last week that he’s dating ESPN sideline reporter Samantha Steele. Relationships between players and reporters, once considered taboo, are largely accepted if there isn’t a conflict of interest. Their paths do not cross professionally because Steele covers college football.
“I’m proud of the relationship,” Ponder, whose teammates now call “Mr. Steele,” told ESPN Twin Cities radio. “I can brag. I’ve got bragging rights, I believe.”
Ponder did outkick his coverage with Steele. He also overthrew his receivers with the Vikings. He completed just 1-of-6 passes for 4 yards in the second half of a 21-14 win over the Cardinals and had just 58 yards passing and two interceptions in the game.
CBS analyst Shannon Sharpe on Texans defensive end J.J. Watt: “He’s Howie Long and Kevin Greene on Red Bull.”
“John Farrell has officially entered Vince Carter territory for the level of hate he’ll receive from Toronto sports fans.”
4 - Former catchers – Bruce Bochy (Giants), Mike Matheny (Cardinals), Jim Leyland (Tigers) and Joe Girardi (Yankees) – who managed in the LCS this year.
1 - Touchdown catches among 38 receptions through six games for Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, who had 96 catches and 16 TDs last year.
.285 - Combined batting average in the NLCS for the Giants’ starting pitchers, who fared better than six position players appearing in at least six games against the Cardinals.
• If you can somehow pull yourself away from UB-Toledo on Saturday, No. 5 Notre Dame against No. 8 Oklahoma should be a game worth watching. The two teams haven’t met since 1999 or 11 years after the Fighting Irish won its last national championship.
• No athlete in recent memory leaves me conflicted more than Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of seven Tour de France titles for using steroids but helped raise more than $500 million for cancer research through Livestrong.
• Penn State, after dropping its first two games, has quietly won its last five. Its game against Ohio State this weekend would be important if either team was eligible for the Big 10 championship or a bowl game. The matchup between the former superpowers has been dubbed, “The Battle of the Banned.”