Bills owner explains decision to fire GM Doug Whaley immediately after NFL Draft

Here's a full transcript from all of Bills owner Terry Pegula's press conference.

The Buffalo Bills fired GM Doug Whaley and the team's scouting department Sunday, a bombshell announcement the morning after the NFL Draft concluded.

The Bills had a 30-34 record in Whaley's four seasons as general manager, but most importantly, Buffalo failed to reach the playoffs during his tenure and extended the team's postseason drought to 17 seasons.

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Whaley joined the Bills in 2010 as an assistant GM after spending time in the Steelers' football department. Whaley took over as GM in 2013 after Buddy Nix stepped down.

Whaley's time in Buffalo was a roller coaster ride when it came to personnel decisions. He made several solid moves to bring in under-the-radar talent. His top aquisitions included signing quarterback Tyrod Taylor, guard Richie Incognito, Mike Gillislee and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. He won big on trades for Jerry Hughes and LeSean McCoy.

However, Whaley's failures cost the cap-strapped Bills big time.

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Whaley's most controversial move came in 2014 when he spent two first-round picks and a fourth rounder to trade up and select wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The 2014 draft was a historically good at the wide receiver position. Other receivers like Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry were all drafted after Watkins and have produced better numbers through three seasons.

Whaley was also heavily involved in drafting quarterback EJ Manuel 16th overall in 2013, despite the fact that many teams had a third-round grade on him. Manuel struggled in 28 games in Buffalo before signing with the Raiders this offseason.

MORE: Bills set up to win 2018 NFL Draft after strong 2017

The writing was on the wall in Buffalo, Whaley was holding onto his job for dear life. But why didn't the Bills fire Whaley when they fired coach Rex Ryan back in January? Why was Whaley and the entire scouting staff involved in the draft if they weren't going to stick around to see it through? Bills owner Terry Pegula was peppered with those questions in a press conference Sunday morning.


Here's a full transcript of Pegula's answers.

Opening comments

Pegula: This morning I informed Doug Whaley that he was relieved of his duties with the Buffalo Bills. I have enjoyed working with Doug. He’s a very good person. I want to wish him the best in the future. This was not an easy decision. We also relieved the pro and amateur scouting departments of their duties and I want to thank each and every one of them for their hard work and dedication. I want to make it clear that this decision was made by Kim and I. We look forward to hiring our first GM as owners of the Buffalo Bills.

I think the main question a lot of people have is why the move was made now as opposed to at the end of the season when you guys let Rex go?

Pegula: The decision was made now because this is the end of the scouting year for our pro personnel departments. We ran a process after the season ended and made the decision at this time.

You said in January that “Doug does a good job. I like him, he works hard and he’s a smart guy.” What changed from then to now?

Pegula: Well, we ran a process and as a result of that process, after the draft we made the decision.

How much has Sean McDermott’s arrival given you confidence in what he’s capable of doing as a head coach with his detail-oriented approach and how much does that maybe factor into this decision?

Pegula: Well, again, like I said, I want to make it clear that Kim and I made this decision and part of our evaluation process is looking and talking to everyone in the organization. That’s the way we run the team.

Where does this leave three people; Jim Monos, Kelvin Fisher and Jim Overdorf?

Pegula: Well Jim Monos and Kelvin Fisher are part of the pro and amateur scouting departments. Jim Overdorf, we’re going to support him as much as we can but that decision will be made by the new GM that’s coming into the organization.

Who will be involved in the search for the next general manager? Will it just be you and Kim or will Sean have a say in who becomes the next general manager?

Pegula: It’s going to be Kim and I and we’re going to use every resource we can inside and outside the organization to find the right person. That’s how we’re going to do it. It’s very simple. We’re going to ask Sean questions, absolutely.

How hard is it to relieve two general managers and a coach within 10 days of each other?

Pegula: You know, we’re close on the Sabres to having a final answer. These are just things when you own two teams that, they occur. If we own three teams, it gets even more complex.

I know you conducted a review but what specifically was lacking from the general manager position in terms of Doug? What specific factors led you and Kim to this decision?

Pegula: You know, I don’t want to discuss publicly why we made the decision, the factors. Like I said, Doug’s a good guy, he’s a smart man. But we made the decision. The reasons remain private to us and Doug.

You said in January when Rex Ryan was fired that Doug Whaley was going to head up your search committee for a new head coach. You’ve taken issue with the word ‘dysfunction’ to describe the organization. What message do you think it sends when you put a GM in charge of hiring a head coach then fire that GM three months later?

Pegula: Doug wasn’t the only person involved in hiring the new head coach. It was Kim and I and a lot of input from other places. I mean, that’s a legitimate question but, no, things change.

You have a lot of money out there. You’re paying people to not work for you anymore. At what point should people believe that you’re actually getting things right? That reeks of mistakes when you have that much money out of the organization for past people.

Pegula: Well this isn’t justification but there’s not — it’s very common in pro sports to have “dead money” in coaching and management.

This much of it? With three years left on their deal?

Pegula: You’d be surprised. It’s very common.

Does that make it right, just because it’s common?

Pegula: No, but I’m telling you, this is our first — we didn’t hire Doug Whaley. I’ve said in the past that I regret not being more involved in the hiring of our hockey GM. And we’re in charge of both processes now and we’re trying to hire a candidate that will be here for a long time.

The other part of that question was why should people feel confident now when you’ve already had other hires that haven’t gone well?

Pegula: Right, I just explained part of the rationale.

Part of it. But there was also Rex, you gave Whaley a contract extension, (Tim) Murray a contract extension.

Pegula: You know what, we need to talk about the future, not the past.

Will the new GM that you hire have all of the responsibilities and duties that Doug had or will Sean assume maybe more of the personnel decisions?

Pegula: Sean’s a head coach. When we hire a new GM, we’ll talk about, obviously, his obligations and duties, but Sean’s a head coach. The GM’s going to be the GM.

What power structure within the organization do you envision as you look forward?

Pegula: 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.

Will Sean theoretically report to the GM?

Pegula: That’s going to be decided. We have to talk to whoever the candidates are and make that decision in the future.

Terry, will Russ Brandon be involved in the search for a new GM?

Pegula: If we need to ask Russ questions, we’re going to ask him. He’s a member of the Bills organization.

What did you maybe learn or what was different in the draft this year with Sean kind of leading the charge maybe as opposed to past years?

Pegula: Sean didn’t lead the charge. It was a collaborative effort in our draft process. I like when things go like that. We all talk — you’ve got to have input from all aspects of the organization.

In that sense, if there was a collaborative effort that you liked, why make the change now when it seemed to work in the draft room with Doug and Sean?

Pegula: Again, I don’t want to talk about the past. I want to talk about the future.

Okay, let me ask you this, then: athletes have a learning curve when it comes to being young and learning the ropes. Do you think that you and Kim have gone through a learning curve as owners? Because you have expressed regrets. Do you think that you have gone through a learning curve over the past six years?

Pegula: Everybody needs to get better. I don’t care if you own a sports team or — your job. You know, you strive to get better in everything you do and that’s what we strive to do. Whether you call it a learning curve, or what — let’s get better.

Are you taking off the possibility of hiring a Director of Football Operations or someone in between? Or will it just be a GM – will it be a GM and head coach structure?

Pegula: I’m saying GM because it’s easier to say than football czar, GM or whatever you guys call that stuff. But, it’s going to be whatever we decide moving forward.

With all of the changes that have happened within both organizations, are you concerned at all about the perception of volatility within the two organizations right now?

Pegula: No. Like I said, this is our first GM hire in the Bills [organization]. We decided to make this change to try to get better. No.

Two part question, Terry: how much of a say did Doug Whaley have in this draft?

Pegula: He put the whole thing together.

And then, at what point did you decide to fire him? When did you reach that conclusion?

Pegula: We ran our process and we decided after the draft.

Mr. Pegula, in the interim without a GM in place, who will be filling the void, so to speak, with personnel decisions that are made between now and the time you get a new GM?

Pegula: It will be Kim and I, and we’re going to talk to the coach and whoever we need to talk to, to make those decisions. Same thing we’re doing in hockey. Same thing.

You went on some of these workouts with quarterbacks throughout the pre-draft process. What did you maybe learn when you did that and how involved do you think you’ll be doing that in the future?

Pegula: Well, first off, it was very interesting to meet these young men and it was a lot of fun. I just did it – quarterback’s an important position and if I do it in the future? I don’t know. I don’t know that answer. I’ve got a daughter that plays tennis. I like watching young athletes improve and workout and whatnot.

How would you characterize how this draft went for your team?

Pegula: I think it went pretty well.

If it went well, then —

Pegula: We need — any draft — ask me that question two or three years from now and I’ll have a better answer.

Right, I’m saying if it went well and you said Doug Whaley put the whole draft together and you said it was a collaborative effort, then why –

Pegula: He put it together and it was a collaborative effort, yes.

Then why was he fired the next day?

Pegula: We have certain aspects we need to get a little better in.

Was communication an issue here? I know it was an issue —

Pegula: No, absolutely not. No. Nope. Nope. And, trust me, you know, Doug’s a good communicator. He’s going to land somewhere and he’s very personable.

You talked about the future and you want to emphasize the future. In the future, why should people feel confident that you’re getting things right now? What should give people confidence?

Pegula: Well, first off, I own the team and they have to believe in us as owners, just like we have to try to believe in our players when we put them on the field. We’re going to try to make the best decision we can in the future and we’ve made big decisions all our lives.

Terry, what are the certain aspects that you alluded to that you believe that you need to get better at in the future within the general manager position?

Pegula: I need to keep that private. I don’t want to discuss that publicly.

When it came to the Sabres, you talked about structure and discipline and character. Could you say the same thing about things that are lacking in this organization and what you think might have been lacking here?

Pegula: No, it’s not the same situation. It’s a different team, different issues. We need to get better.

There have been a lot of reports and speculation since the end of the season about Doug Whaley’s future. You’ve mentioned you enjoyed working with him. How tough was it that he kind of got strung along here a little bit in the last few months?

Pegula: There were a few tears around the building, to be honest with you. He’s a good guy.

Terry, it’s been reported that Brandon Beane, the assistant GM in Carolina, is a candidate. Can you confirm that?

Pegula: We haven’t started any — had one discussion regarding who our candidate is.

Terry, do you have a structure of what you want the front office to be? Whether it’s the head coach reporting to the GM, or Director of Football Operations, or whatever it is – or are you going to let the candidates in the interview —

Pegula: We’ve got to let that roll and see how it shapes out as we talk to people.

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