ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills fired general manager Doug Whaley, the team announced Sunday.
The Bills were 30-34 in Whaley’s four seasons as general manager. His only winning season came in 2014, when the Bills finished 9-7 but missed the playoffs. Buffalo’s postseason drought extended to 17 seasons after a 7-9 finish in 2016.
“After a thorough review of our football operations over the past several months, Kim [Pegula] and I informed Doug this morning that we will be moving in a new direction,” Bills co-owner Terry Pegula said in a statement. “We have enjoyed working with Doug. He is a good person and we want to thank him for his work and commitment to our football team. This was my decision. It was not an easy decision but I believe it’s the right one for the future of the Buffalo Bills. Our search for a new general manager will begin immediately.”
Doug Whaley’s firing solidifies Sean McDermott’s role as Bills’ leader
The timing of Doug Whaley’s firing as GM is puzzling, but the move leaves no doubt that the Bills are new head coach Sean McDermott’s team.
The Bills also dismissed their entire scouting staff a day after the draft, with Terry Pegula announcing the decision during a news conference Sunday.
“I don’t want to discuss publicly why we made the decision, the factors,” Pegula said. “Doug is a good guy. He’s a smart man. But we made the decision. And the reasons remain private to us and Doug.
“There were a few tears around the building, to be honest with you. He’s a good guy.”
Pegula said the team will support longtime contract negotiator Jim Overdorf “as much as we can,” but that the decision on whether to keep Overdorf will be made by the next general manager. Overdorf has been with the Bills since 1986.
The Bills have yet to discuss candidates they will interview to replace Whaley. The hiring will be made by the Pegulas, who will then decide how to structure the front office. Both Whaley and coach Sean McDermott reported directly to ownership, but Pegula did not commit to that arrangement moving forward.
“I like collaborative organizations, so the power structure I envision when we hire our new GM is someone who will work in the organization with us as owners, with the head coach and make a team that makes us better,” Pegula said.
Despite Whaley being fired immediately after the draft, Pegula said McDermott did not “lead the charge” in the draft process and that Whaley “put the whole thing together.” Pegula added the draft “went pretty well,” but when questioned why Whaley was fired one day later, Pegula said, “We have certain aspects we need to get a little better in.”
— theScore (@theScore) April 30, 2017
Whaley’s firing represents a change in course for the Bills’ owners. The Pegulas had put Whaley in charge of the team’s coaching search after firing Rex Ryan in December, a decision that was seen as a vote of confidence entering his fifth season as GM.
When the Bills hired McDermott as coach in January, Whaley retained control of the 53-man roster. McDermott said at the time that he was “comfortable” with the Bills’ power structure and how football decisions would be made.
“Those guys get along great,” Terry Pegula said March 28 at the NFL owners meetings. “They’ve been making some key decisions, and they work well together.”
Despite that endorsement, Whaley had taken less of a public-facing role in recent months. McDermott spoke at the Bills’ pre-draft news conference, as well as after each of the team’s draft selections were made last week — interviews that had been conducted by Whaley in prior seasons. Whaley, in fact, had not spoken to reporters since the Senior Bowl in January.
Asked Saturday about Whaley’s future, McDermott said, “I’m focused on this draft. Honestly. I’m going to focus on this draft and what we have in front of us going on right now with this priority free-agent market right now. I will say that Doug and his staff did a phenomenal job. I will say that.”
Whaley, 44, joined the Bills as assistant general manager in 2010 after spending 11 seasons in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ scouting department. He was promoted to general manager after Buddy Nix stepped down following the 2013 draft.
After the 2013 draft, Whaley said he played an “integral role” in selecting quarterback EJ Manuel with the 16th overall pick. Manuel was benched in 2014 after 14 games as Buffalo’s starter, and he signed as a free agent with the Oakland Raiders this offseason.
In his first draft as general manager in 2014, Whaley traded the Bills’ 2015 first-round pick to move up and select wide receiver Sammy Watkins fourth overall. Watkins eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in 2015 but has missed 11 games the past two seasons because of injuries.
In May, Whaley questioned during a radio interview whether humans’ bodies were meant to play football, which he termed a “violent game.” The comment drew national attention about the safety of football and led to Whaley later issuing a statement saying he used a poor choice of words.
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