Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula has full confidence in general manager Doug Whaley's ability to turn around his franchise, and outlined the reasons coach Rex Ryan was fired in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
Pegula says he is disappointed in having to change coaches after only two years, but says he had no other choice to fire Ryan after the Bills defense showed few signs of progress during the season.
"None of us are happy with the season," Pegula said during a 17-minute phone interview with the AP on Monday.
Pegula spoke a day after the Bills (7-9) closed the season with a 30-10 loss at the New York Jets and extended the NFL's longest active playoff drought to 17 years. And he spoke shortly after Whaley held an end-of-season news conference in which the general manager said he had no idea Ryan's job was in jeopardy and had no input into the coaching change.
Pegula backed up Whaley's comments in his first interview since Ryan was fired on Dec. 27 and replaced by Anthony Lynn, who took over as interim coach. Pegula said he made what he called "an executive decision" to fire Ryan during his weekly conference call with the coach and Whaley.
As the call came to a close, Pegula said Ryan asked to speak to the owner privately. Pegula said Ryan then directly asked him about his future beyond this season. Pegula said he had no choice but to set things straight with Ryan.
"I was asked a point-blank question and based on the discussions we've been having all year, I felt it was better to tell Rex that we were going in a different direction," Pegula said.
Ryan recommended Lynn to take over as interim coach for Buffalo's final game.
Though Pegula was going to wait to evaluate Ryan's job after the season, he said he probably would have come to the same conclusion now as he did a week ago. Pegula based his decision on his own observations, input he has received from his front-office staff over the course of the season and also on previous discussions he's had with Ryan regarding addressing the team's struggles.
"(Whaley) had input on the basis of conversations throughout the year, what the problems were," Pegula said. "But did Doug ever say, 'Are we firing our coach, are we keeping our coach?' We never had that conversation. I took it upon myself to tell Rex on the basis of conversations about the games and the aftermath of certain games that, hey, things aren't going well."
One of the low points for Pegula was a 38-24 loss at Oakland on Dec. 4, in which the Bills squandered 24-9 third-quarter lead.
Ryan was a defensive specialist who oversaw a unit that finished 19th in yards allowed in each of his two seasons. This year, Buffalo also allowed opposing running backs to gain 200 yards rushing three times — including Miami's Jay Ajayi twice.
Pegula referred to Lynn as only a candidate to replace Ryan, but "not a lock" to take over the job on a permanent basis.
Pegula did acknowledge the Bills placed Lynn in a tough situation, getting only six days to prepare to coach against the Jets, and minus his starting quarterback. With the Bills out of playoff contention, Pegula said the decision was made to bench starter Tyrod Taylor to evaluate backup EJ Manuel and rookie fourth-round pick Cardale Jones.
Manuel, who is completing the final year of his contract, struggled in going 9 of 20 for 86 yards and a lost fumble, before being replaced by Jones to start the fourth quarter.
As for Taylor's future, Pegula said that was still to be evaluated. Pegula did pay Taylor a compliment when reminded he went 7-8 this season.
"Maybe he can win more games than that, I don't know," Pegula said. "But when the other side of the ball's not performing, it's hard to outscore people."
The Bills led the NFL in rushing for a second consecutive season and tied for 10th in points scored. The Bills passing attack did hold them back by finishing 30th.
Pegula defended the Bills at a time critics are questioning the team's direction.
"There's no dysfunction. Everybody is on the same page," Pegula said. "We're busy busting our asses."