Maybe it was seeing Bud Adams flip off his team from the owner's box. Or maybe it was seeing Terrell Owens and Josh Reed yelling on the sidelines. Maybe Ralph Wilson finally realized his ticket-buying public was fed up with the situation. Maybe it was the offense. Whatever the reason, Wilson came to his senses today and fired Dick Jauron as his head coach.
It's about time. I can't give Wilson much credit for making a move that should have happened last January. He saved a couple of million dollars on the ill-advised contract extension he gave Jauron last season. That's a small benefit, indeed, for wasting more than half an NFL season waiting for Jauron to confirm what any lucid person knew long ago: That he was a failure as an NFL head coach.
It's also hard to get encouraged when you consider Wilson's history of underpaying for head coaches. This is where the hard part begins: Will the owner finally loosen the purse strings and find a proven head coach who will command an elite salary? Or will he go the typical route and hire some young coordinator who will learn on the job?
In the short term, an interim coach will almost surely be elevated from the staff -- Bobby April or Perry Fewell, presumably. But if the Bills want to be taken seriously, they need to do a thorough and aggressive search for a coach who can lead them out of their decade-long funk.
This franchise is at a crossroads, whether Wilson cares to admit it or not. The time for hiring key people on the cheap has to end. First of all, Ralph needs to do what he should have done after he fired Tom Donahoe: Bring in a respected football man to oversee the operation and hire the next coach. By reaching for Marv Levy, he lost three plus years. He got stuck with a mediocre coach in Jauron. Then he elevated Russ Brandon when Levy left two years later.
Wilson and Brandon are trying to regionalize the franchise and keep it viable in Buffalo. But they've been regionalizing a dysfunctional product. It's time to get serious. They need to hire a real general manager to run the football department. And they need to spend money on a top coach.
There are a lot of options. Mike Shanahan, Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick. All former Super Bowl winners who aren't coaching. All of them would probably want complete control of the operation. Wilson has always been wary of the GM-coach figure, with good reason. It rarely works out well in the NFL. At this point, I'd be willing to give it a shot, but it's not likely Wilson would go for it.
But that doesn't mean he can't bring in a strong GM type. He should promote Brandon to president -- a title held only previously by Donahoe. Then the new GM can hire the head coach. There are good candidates out there. Greg Gabriel, a Buffalo native who runs the Bears college draft, is a possibility. Rick Mueller, the former Saints GM, is now working in the UFL. Wilson respects him. Mueller might bring in Jim Haslett as coach.
There are other possibilities. But the key is getting a football guy in here to evaluate the team and determine where they've gone wrong. That means spending money. Wilson says he's still committed to winning a Super Bowl for the fans. It's time for him to put his money where his mouth is.