For most of us in the real world, when we’re looking to make a few bucks and dump items we no longer need, we rummage through the basement for outdated lamps and old bed frames. We grab bicycles that our kids have outgrown and old books and dusty stereos.
We take out advertisements in the newspaper and Penny Saver and make signs telling people about our garage sales, hoping someone else is willing to pay for our junk. And if we’re lucky, we’ll make enough money to take the kids out for dinner or fix the $50 lawn mower.
Terry Pegula had 75,000 acres rich with natural gas in West Virginia and Ohio lying around, so he sold them for $1.75 billion.
We throw around numbers with such ease these days, especially with the massive contracts in sports, that we often trivialize what they mean. Let me put it this way: Pegula could set $1 million ablaze every day for nearly three years before burning through the loot he made on that sale alone, and that’s after taxes.
It must be nice.
This is not to take anything away from Pegula. He’s had problems owning the Sabres, but he really is a good dude. He has been a blessing to our community with all the money he has poured into downtown. He, more than any other person, may be more responsible for our city showing signs of making a comeback.
Pegula is friendly and warm and down to earth. He understands fans making sausages and drinking beer in the parking lots along One Bills Drive. It wasn’t that long ago when he was one of them. You can appreciate a man who worked in the mines as a kid and ended up owning them as a businessman.
He really is one of us, only with $4-plus billion.
Now, with signs pointing toward him making an effort to purchase the Bills, you can only hope that he learned from his mistakes during his three-year test drive in the NHL. On a personal level, he would be ideal man for the Bills. On a professional level, well, look at the Sabres.
In the months before he purchased the Sabres, people around Pegula said numerous times that the Bills were on his radar. The Sabres were his favorite hockey team going back to the French Connection, but he also loved the Bills and was a longtime season-ticket holder while living in Orchard Park.
Pegula would keep the Bills here. That much is clear. There were rumblings long before Ralph Wilson died that Pegula would get involved with purchasing the Bills if it appeared Tom Golisano or a group linked to Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was serious about buying the team.
The general message was that Pegula would throw his wealth behind the Sabres – and he did – with the idea that money would not be an obstruction to winning the Stanley Cup. But if he ever purchased the Bills, they said, he would run the operation like a businessman rather than some fantasy owner.
And that, my friends, is good news.
Pegula could solve problems for both franchises, but he also would come with an inherent risk. He’s also capable of running both teams into the ground.
He had good intentions with the Sabres, but it was actually his wealth, friendliness and naivete that contributed to their downfall. He came aboard and gave everybody raises in the front office. He built a $10 million locker room. He turned the place into a country club.
Pegula also failed to listen to sound advice and refused to make necessary moves when he arrived. He was told by his confidants – including, according to sources, his wife, Kim – that he needed to make changes at the top. Translation: Fire Darcy Regier. Instead, he kept Regier and watched his team fall apart.
It was not entirely Regier’s fault that the Sabres became a mess. Pegula was to blame, too, by spoiling his players. He had the wrong people running the show. He hired a good man in Pat LaFontaine, who essentially lost a power struggle to Pegula’s cronies and was shown the door before fully restructuring the front office.
As much as Pegula needed to clean up the top of the Sabres’ organization when he arrived, he would be wise to keep his hands off the Bills’ front office. The Bills made the right changes when Wilson handed over control to Russ Brandon.
This is not to suggest that Brandon has all the answers. It’s simply too early to say with any certainty, but you can see a shift in their approach. There was a needed sense of desperation, a desire to get things right and finally make the playoffs, before Wilson passed away.
Brandon appears to have a bright young general manager in place with Doug Whaley, who has the stomach to wheel and deal in an effort to acquire top players in the draft and address obvious needs. Doug Marrone looks like the right coach, at least for now. The next owner should let it play out.
All three know they need to win before a new owner takes over. It might help explain why they’ve been soft on crime (see: Dareus, Marcell), which contrasts with Marrone’s no-nonsense approach. Dareus’ agent is Todd France, who, by the way, in 2011 was bought out by a sports agency backed by … Terry Pegula.
Pegula could buy the Bills and have plenty of dough left over to help pay for a new stadium. Local and state governments are almost certain to pony up tax money for a new building, and they should. He shouldn’t be expected to spend his fortune for a new building just because he can.
If he didn’t learn with the Sabres that money doesn’t solve all problems, he can ask Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder about mistakes they made with their NFL teams. The best organizations almost always are the ones with the best thinkers, not what the public believes are the best players.
Anyway, the Bills aren’t some toy.
Pegula treated the Sabres like an old bicycle he stumbled upon in a garage sale, something he could take for a spin and fix if the wheels fell off. The Bills are a local jewel, the region’s most prized possession in sports. We know how Pegula could buy them. He needs to learn how to run them.