When looking around for the most dysfunctional franchise in the National Football League, your top contenders would be the Jaguars, Jets, Rams, Browns and Bills, even with the Bills sitting at 7-7 right now. Since the Browns haven't won any football games this season, and sometimes make you think they might never win one ever again, they're clearly the biggest losers around on the watch of owner Jimmy Haslam, who has no clue. This must come as a tremendous relief to the Jaguars' Shahid Khan, who fires a coach and still gives him a lift home on the team plane. Or someone like Stan Kroenke of the Rams who, in the immortal words of Bill Parcells, clearly doesn't know if footballs are blown up or stuffed.
Kroenke's just one more rich guy who has no idea how to operate a successful football team, no matter how much money he makes when he gets his new stadium in L.A. So are the owners of those other teams just mentioned.
And so, bless their hearts, are Terry and Kim Pegula, who took over the Bills two years ago.
The Pegulas may be about to fire another coach, Rex Ryan. The team's general manager, Doug Whaley, is apparently safe, though you wonder sometimes how Whaley was the end of the executive star search in Buffalo. The Bills also have a president, Russ Brandon, whom Mr. and Mrs. Pegula also allow to run the NHL's Buffalo Sabres. Brandon, by the way, was hired by the Bills' late owner, Ralph Wilson, and came to Buffalo from the then-Florida Marlins, because who doesn't look to the Marlins when you're trying to build the Bills' first Super Bowl winner?
The Bills aren't the Browns, incidentally, or even close. They can still end up at 9-7 if they can beat the Dolphins in Buffalo and then beat the Jets on the last Sunday of the regular season the way they did last year when Rex knocked his old team out of the playoffs. But the Bills haven't made the playoffs in this century and likely aren't going to make the playoffs this year, and there are a lot of stories out of Buffalo these days that Rex is gone, whether he finishes at 9-7 or not.
So you know? The last time the Bills did make the playoffs, Wilson and Wade Phillips, the coach at the time, were dumb enough to sit down Doug Flutie, who had brought life to the team and the city during the regular season, in favor of the immortal Rob Johnson. For a chumpwit move like that, the football gods punished the team and the city with the Music City Miracle, and the Bills haven't been back to the playoffs since.
Now Wilson is gone and the Bills belong to Mr. and Mrs. Pegula, who are great civic heroes in Buffalo, and have done much to improve the life -- and economy -- of the city. Just not the Buffalo Bills. So they've got Brandon and Whaley in charge. They were the ones who brought in Rex to replace Doug Marrone, who actually thought he was going to replace Rex with the Jets, which would have been some move, going from one dysfunctional franchise to another. And they've had a lot of blowback in Buffalo about Rex having brought in his twin brother, Rob, to run the Bills' defense, even though you hear out of Buffalo that the brothers have been bickering the way brothers do.
It's being reported that Whaley might now want to get rid of Rex and hire Anthony Lynn, perhaps hopeful that Lynn can provide cover for a general manager who decided to sell out in one of the best drafts ever for wide receivers (2014) and move up to take Sammy Watkins and not Odell Beckham Jr. Whatever happened to Beckham, anyway?
Whaley not only made a trade with the Browns to move up, he traded his 2015 first-round pick and his fourth. The player selected right after Watkins, by the Raiders, was Khalil Mack. The next wide receiver taken was Mike Evans. Then Beckham. Brandin Cooks went to the Saints later. And Rex is supposed to be the one in the most trouble in Buffalo.
On Wednesday morning, I asked my old friend Jerry Sullivan, a terrific columnist for The Buffalo News, just how dysfunctional the Bills are.
"I've been calling them that for 10 years," Sully said. "If you Google 'Bills' and 'dysfunctional' my name might come up 50 times."
Even the Browns don't have as long a playoff drought as the Bills, working on the longest of the four major North American professional sports. They get rich, well-meaning owners who are such amateurs running teams they make you wonder how they ever made their money in the first place. Terry Pegula has invested in Buffalo development projects and gave $100 million to his alma mater, Penn State, to build a hockey arena there. He has the two big-league professional sports teams in Buffalo, which make him and his wife the only game in town. But now it looks as if the Bills may be starting all over again. Or half-starting all over again. Or something.
Terry and Kim Pegula didn't make Brandon the president of the Bills. He was in place when they got the team. But they did make him president of the Sabres. From the Marlins front office to all that. You wonder when Brandon will run for governor of New York State at this point, in case he thinks that might be a fun and exciting career move for him the way pro football, and then pro hockey, were. I grew up in upstate New York. These are the people now in charge of a once-proud franchise tough enough and strong enough to go to four straight Super Bowls, even if the Bills never won one. You ought to know that no losing team since the Bills has made it back to the big game since.
As another western New York guy I know said to me, "Sometimes you think that winning over gullible fans is more important to these people than winning football games."
This is how it goes sometimes in sports. You don't have to have one losing season after another -- or even a winless season like the Browns are having -- to look like a hot mess. You just need the wrong people to have the owners' ears, and clearly that is what is happening with the Bills. Then you are stuck in the middle, and facing another possible regime change. The Bills are one of those teams now. Their only plan is to get to the next plan. There is the thought that Rex might be gone whether he finishes 9-7 or 8-8 or not. Sullivan thinks that 9-7 might give ownership a change of heart, whatever Whaley's agenda.
For now the Bills are 7-7. They have a better record than the Jags or the Jets or the Rams or the awful Cleveland Browns. So when you put them up against the NFL's other dysfunctional franchises, they win. At least they win something.