The Buffalo Bills have failed to reach the postseason in 17 straight seasons, which ties for the 5th longest streak in NFL history. It’s the longest active streak in the Big Four sports in North America (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL). It’s easy to see why. Just look at the 2016 Bills.
According to Gary Myers of the NY Daily News, Bills head coach Rex Ryan wasn’t focused on winning; Ryan was too busy trying to throw a life preserver to his brother Rob.
“According to a well-placed source, Rex Ryan basically dedicated the 2016 season to resurrecting the reputation of his brother Rob, who most recently had been fired by the Cowboys and Saints,” Myers writes. “Rob was not the Bills defensive coordinator but had the run of the place. He was almost the co-head coach. It backfired on Rex and they both got canned. Bills owner Terry Pegula was so anxious to end the Ryan reign of error that he let him go with three years and $16.5 million left on his contract. Rex was so concerned about his brother that the staff became dysfunctional.”
Rex had signed a 5-year, $27.5 million contract to serve as head coach, but the Bills ownership felt they needed to cut ties after just two seasons. Rex inherited a defense that went 9-7 and ranked 4th in the league in points against in 2014, and watched the team fall to 8-8 with a 15th ranked defense in 2015 and 7-9 with the 16th ranked defense in 2016.
In Rex’s credit, the Bills offense crawled from 18th in the league in 2014 to 12th and 10th under his stewardship.
But when you’re a defensive-minded coach and you manage to sink a top ranked unit, then you’re clearly not doing your job. And when you add your brother to your coaching staff as assistant head coach, then you deserve further scrutiny.
So let’s look at Rob Ryan. Rob joined the New England Patriots in 2000 as the linebackers coach under some guy named Bill Belichick (ever heard of him?) and served in that capacity for four seasons. Upon leaving the Patriots, Rob was named defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders from 2004-08, defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns from 2009-10 (under Eric Mangini), defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys from 2011-12, and defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints from 2013-15.
That marks 12 straight seasons of being a defensive coordinator across four different franchises.
Rob led just two top 15 defenses over that time frame: his first year with the Saints, when they ranked 4th after ranking 31st the year prior; and his second season with the Browns when they ranked 13th after ranking 21st the year before.
It would be one thing if Rob’s defenses improved under his tenure, like they did in his two years with the Browns. Instead, his defenses either remained flat (Raiders: 31st, 25th, 18th, 26th, 24th), or they entered a tailspin (Cowboys: 16th, 24th; Saints: 4th, 28th, 32nd).
It would be one thing if, say, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh hired his brother- former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh- and named him assistant head coach. Jim led the 49ers to three straight conference championships with three 11th ranked offenses and three top 3 defenses.
And it’s another for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to put his sons on the lowest rungs of the coaching and scouting ladders and to expect them to work their way up. (Note: remind me in 2 years when safeties coach Steve Belichick leapfrogs linebackers coach Brian Flores as the successor to defensive coordinator Matt Patricia)
To promote your brother to the position of Assistant Head Coach with Rob’s track record sends the completely wrong message to those within the organization- that personal connections trump performance, and that Rex would rather fire the offensive coordinator Greg Roman (who coincidentally served as Jim Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator) instead of look in the mirror and realize appointing your brother to help run the defense was a terrible idea.
In a franchise with a general manager that wanted to play E.J. Manuel over Tyrod Taylor, it’s clear that neither the front office, nor the coaching staff had any sort of clue of what to do. Appointing family members to positions beyond their merit is bad, mmkay?