Donahoe Methodology Proving Vacuous

Prior to the past season ending, news of a pending Commander Tom extension filled the regional media. Whether or not that extension is forthcoming remains to be seen. Perhaps Ralph Wilson saw enough out of the Steelers game and had his team/city shamed enough as a result, to reconsider. Why Tom Donahoe deserves an extension at this point in time is beyond this analyst as well as many a reader and Bills fan.

If anything, this forthcoming season should at least require the return to respectability that was promised a full three seasons ago now before the ink hits the paper on any extension. How that is measured is another story, but at this point the Commander Tom show is tantamount to the little kid who asks his parents to watch him perform a difficult task for the first time. "Watch this!" The young child tries to complete the task but fails. "Wait, wait, watch again…" Again, failure. "Wait, wait, one more time…" and so on. How many seasons of ineptitude are Bills fans to endure here.

The Commander Tom management methodology is beginning to rival that of the "even a broken clock is right twice a day" methodology. Eventually he'll get it right in a short-lived fashion. Fans got a peek into that via a wholeheartedly unimpressive "six game winning streak" featuring a bunch of teams ranging from the three worst in the league to average on a good day and three of which coexisted in a conference more suited to placement in the arena league than in the NFL this past season.

Perhaps Mr. Wilson has seen the light that a record of 9-7 built on nothing more than a soft schedule featuring the three worst teams in the league in four games along with pathetic 6-10 Arizona as over half, or 5 of the Bills' nine wins, is nothing other than unimpressive, especially when three of the other four wins are over the Rams, Seahawks, and Bengals, again, three average teams on a good day. The Bills met none of them on a "good day" this past season and were still generally outplayed by the best of the three in spite of winning the game.

From a revolving door policy at manning the now infamous left defensive end position, to a secondary that is a season away from having two geriatric overpaid safeties and absolutely no valuable cornerbacks, to three seasons wasted on one of the biggest quarterback "experiments" in the history of the NFL, to having a lame-duck top-caliber running back on the trading block prior to walking clean as a free agent simply because of a risky decision to draft another on top of him that to date has yet to perform to a similar level, to having an offensive line that appears to be ready to challenge for the league's worst this season without a significant one-offseason rebuild and one that is a season away from utter disintegration and a worse line than Donahoe inherited, to the most money and cap room spent on players that don't earn that much through their play, to the past three drafts which collectively have produced only very minimally, to filling a roster ala more the "kid in the candy shop" mentality than solid team building in the NFL, this season should be the determining factor as to whether or not the Commander Tom show will run again for another season. The ratings have dropped significantly however and prior to handing Donahoe the keys to the family sedan for another five seasons, Mr. Wilson had better apply caution lest his haste keep this team down until the next decade.

With barely any GMs/teams in the league interested in Bledsoe upon his initially being traded from New England to the Bills, how many of those same GMs, given Bledsoe's performances in 2002 and 2003 would have turned away nearly $14 million clean as well as taking a deal originally "no strings attached" and attach strings to it as if rigging a ship.

Not being one to care about the status of players once they leave the Bills, what Bill Parcells is thinking down in Dallas is certainly anyone's guess however. There should be little question that his signing Bledsoe is a deathwish for his career in Dallas. I'll give it until the first Skins game max until the fruits of that decision coming home to roost. For Parcells it will likely feel like a twenty-ton hen sitting on top of him. Bledsoe's days as a journeyman backup have now begun, a season behind schedule.

Regardless, the Bills now have a cap hit of over $4 million to deal with. Talk about adding insult to injury. And for this Commander Tom should be rewarded? And let's talk about Bledsoe.

At the beginning of last season, from the top down on the coaching staff, Bledsoe was the man. They all backed him. 2003 wasn't his fault for reasons put forth by them in the media, least of all was not the offensive line for which I suppose the sole fix was raiding other teams' practice squads and swapping out one past-prime guard for another along with more 7th round draft picks. Ergo, the issue with the line today! But at the beginning of last season, QB coach, specifically brought in to "fix Humpty", said the following:

"He's unusually good, and I've been around some unusually good ones with Boomer and Montana," Wyche said. "But he's right there with them. He has not lost anything with his arm strength. He has not lost any of his accuracy. But the most impressive part for me right now two days into it is his recognition and his decision-making. He recognizes the defense. Eight snaps out of 10, he's throwing it to the right guy. And one of those other two, if it's not there he's laying it off to the right guy."

Who was in Bledsoe's uniform on the days that prompted Sam Wyche to say this? Why did the coaches back Bledsoe? Unfortunately there is an inherent problem here. These statements were so far from reality that one of two things needs to be recognized. The first is that perhaps the entire coaching staff had no clue what they were talking about when they gave their input to Commander Tom and decided to turn down a golden offer in releasing Bledsoe prior to last season. The second is that they knew what they were talking about but were utterly unable to get this goose to lay any golden eggs. We can allow them to pick their poison.

Likely it was the former, but that then seriously challenges the assessments of the coaching staff and Commander Tom himself. Add to this the gap between statements and reality in the differences between other players picked up largely due to past dossiers of performance for players now on their downsides, and a very clear picture begins to develop.

Until someone answers the question as to how on earth Commander Tom and a coaching staff can turn down enough money to rebuild nearly the entire line and go from the prior statements and mentality to one of "he's just not getting it done" or "we wanted to go in a different direction" is beyond reason. They did this all within a period of less than four months! Tom Donahoe recently stated "We felt at times this year that the offense was a little too predictable and not varied enough." Ya don't say! Is this something that the team had to figure out after a over a decade of game film of Bledsoe? If yours truly and many other a fan can determine that based on network footage, then why can't a staff with more film than the Oscar determiners? I realize that this is just part of the media game played in professional sports, but something else, much more just isn't adding up here.

Then in recent reports, Donahoe further stated, "We don't see it as a risk, we've seen enough of J.P. in training camp and saw enough at the end of the year when he did come back. He has all the tools." OK. Then if that was the case, training camp was still when the Bills could have freed up $14 million towards the future of an offensive line or other team needs and also have avoided the $4.3 million cap hit that they now have. That's an $18 million swing!!! It's a lot of money and cap space to wager on what shell the pea is under! What sort of GM makes such a decision to have retained Bledsoe, even if it meant starting Matthews or any number of other possibilities for a half a season or even season, at such costs and risks?

Again, this was a clear manifestation of a decision having been made to justify a management decision and career vice one made to move this team along towards truly eventually being a playoff caliber team and one capable of winning a Super Bowl. How many more such decisions, albeit likely on far lesser scales, loom in the future? It certainly makes one wonder what the strategic focus is for this team. As pointed out numerous times, there appears to be none. If there is one, then it may appear to have been designed by one of Nurse Ratchett's patients in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

And what about JP Losman? From the full support of Bledsoe by the coaching staff late in the season, prior to Ralph Wilson's "involvement" in the decision making process, to prior statements that Losman was not ready, how does this play out? I distinctly remember watching Losman in this past preseason. Every single pass that he threw in preseason games was laser accurate! A QB with accuracy like that can only be so "not ready." Certainly that alone would be an enormous upgrade over Bledsoe who had the touch of someone that had just dipped his hands into a deep fryer prior to throwing the ball.

But more importantly, the team traded away a 2nd and a 5th rounder, not to mention this year's 1st which he was rumored to be worth, in order to "jump the queue" in this past draft to acquire Losman. Did the team not do its homework? Why would they have drafted a player that they felt was not ready? Once again, this all smacks of a management by media "pep rally" mentality.

Now that it has become increasingly clear that managing a team via a "pep-rally" approach and mentality has terminal issues associated with it, the Bills can now begin focusing on the future. It cannot be clearer that the Donahoe methodology, whatever that has been, has fallen flat on its face. The question du jour is whether or not this will be the approach that will be used.

Insistences that this team had all the talent in place to contend and insisting that coaching was the lone holdout in the success of recent Bills teams tells fans one of two things. It either tells fans that Tom Donahoe could not properly assess that it has in fact been a talent issue, more specifically line talent; or it tells fans that once again Donahoe has hired a bad coach. Either way, there is no logical exit for Donahoe out of this embarrassingly negligent situation. I, along with many fans, and if nothing else than simply due to "lack of information", have far greater faith in head coach Mike Mularkey than in Commander Tom.

Donahoe's arrogant snubbing of conventional NFL success formulas based on solid line play coupled with a problematic player staffing formula and approach have brought this Bills team full circle to the day he entered the scene. Trying one skill position player resulting in failure, then using greater and greater cap and draft resources to try others in a string of unsuccessful attempts has only resulted in ridiculously inefficient player staffing and a gross neglect in the use of draft selections. Leaving him installed as the leader of this team beyond his fifth and final season of his contract would be equally reprehensible for a team truly seeking to move forward. At some point luck will leave him with a winning season ala the adage that "even a stopped clock is right twice a day."

Moving forward however, this team needs to begin running itself with next season's goals, those of 2006, in mind and quite possibly even those of 2007 if the Bills are ever to be a playoff caliber team before 2010.

This team needs to begin looking to the future. Once again, and something that simply cannot be stated stridently enough, the goals of the team run counter to those of GM Tom Donahoe at this point. The good GM needs to chase down some semblance of winning games now whereas the best interests of the team are to shed the past four seasons of this utterly failed approach and begin to move forward throwing flotsam and deadweight overboard before another four or more seasons become washed away into the annuls of failed professional football seasons!

The Donahoe methodology seems to favor and rely upon bringing in players that "other coaches have raised." It is the familial equivalent to allowing another to raise a son or daughter to be a fine upstanding young teenager and then adopting them. There is and has been little focus on raising the team's own players and bringing them along via their own hard work. Whatever focus there has been on them has largely failed apart from the first draft during the Commander Tom era and for which it can be questioned whether he or the organization already in place at the time he was hired was more responsible for its outcome and results.

Donahoe either inherited the core marquee talent on this current team or "bought" it via free agency. Other than Aaron Schobel and Nate Clements, in four seasons, there is not a single homegrown player on this team that was brought in and raised to marquee or premier level via Donahoe's drafts. Nate Clements will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2004 season. That would leave Aaron Schobel as the sole player in that category if Clements is not resigned, a sad indictment on its own!

As I see it, fans will know full well by the end of the NFL draft less than two months from now what they can expect this fall in terms of team record. Barring some sort of ridiculous encore by Commander Tom this offseason, one that given the cap money I am not sure is possible, allow me to be the first to say that I have likely seen enough. Being patient and fair however, waiting until the draft has passed and until free agency has ended is certainly fair.

At this point however, due to the conflicting interests which necessarily exist between Commander Tom and the best interests of the organization going forward, it is dubious indeed as to how the Bills can consider extending his contract without some very serious positive developments this coming season among which should include Willis McGahee having become much better than Henry ever was along with JP Losman appearing to "be the answer" at QB for the first time since someone named Kelly was at the helm. At the most optimistic of scenarios, waiting at least until midseason should be earliest point at which any such extension should be considered.

Thrown in the fact that the feat before him runs in the mode of the proverbial cramming five pounds of stuff into a three-pound bag, and the early returns do not appear to be good. On top of that heap on that his biggest remaining potential achievements are still very much in the incubation stages, namely Evans and McGahee, and still to date have yet to be anything approaching fully determined, and the questions abound. The clock is ticking and so far the team that Tom Donahoe promised three years ago isn't even on the radar screen let alone a reality. Why this is worthy of an extension is for Ralph Wilson to decide.

With two seasons of decent management, this team may truly be a contender. Unfortunately for Commander Tom, the same was true following the 2000 season.





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