Last week I was pondering Russ Brandon calling a press conference, grabbing a microphone and admitting to fans how far his franchise had sunk. When I wasn't doing that I was dreaming about the Bills bucking conventional NFL wisdom and luring a coach that thinks, like I do, that there are advantages to be gained through statistics against a league resistant to change.
Then the calendar changed Tuesday to 2013 and this was actually happening.
Tuesday was a momentous day for Brandon, and for the Bills. No matter where Brandon's leadership takes the team, the Bills no longer have the impediments provided by their owner to have to duck and dodge. And that's good. I simply could not imagine a quality coach sitting with 94-year-old Ralph Wilson and signing up. Wilson's decision to step down is important and historic.
To his credit, Brandon was frank and almost brutal in his appraisal of the franchise's image. His line that "The brand has been tarnished," is exactly how I put once last week. He's right, and it's important that the leader of the Bills recognizes this.
Further, Brandon mentioned "analytics" as a key component of the Bills' tardy but welcomed emergence into 21st-century football. 'Bout time. I've imagined the Bills paying less attention to the wave of new information swelling over football than wondering whatever happened to their Columbia House membership. The drumbeat to this sport no longer plays on cassette tapes.
Only time will tell how open to new ideas Brandon and the Bills really are.
Analytics encompasses many things. It helps you in evaluating your players, your opponents' players, and college players. It enables you to put your coach's gameday decisions to cold, hard scrutiny -- unfettered by emotions and allegiances.
In short, it helps you get things right.
There are hundreds of coaches the Bills could consider for their current vacancy. Contrary to the common thinking that experience is not only helpful but necessary, I would stay away from anyone that's ever been an NFL head coach before. No coach in this league, past or present, has ever distinguished himself as willing to fully embrace and utilize the sport's new math.
The current crop of coaches consists of two groups that fans are fond of: coaches that were fired just recently despite having a passable record (Andy Reid, Lovie Smith, Ken Whisenhunt), and coaches with championships in their pasts (Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, Bill Cowher). I don't want any of them. Each guy in the first group repeatedly demonstrated an indifference to the kind of information -- fourth-down probabilities, mainly -- that would have helped them in the jobs they just lost. As for the second group, I think the game is flying into a new era and I don't trust any of them to abandon the thinking that won them a ring and adapt.
I don't think the Bills have the cachet for Chip Kelly, the Oregon coach. Brandon's defensive protestations that the Bills will pursue any avenue, that there are no limitations, will still not be enough for them to persuade Kelly, in my opinion. You have to show it, not just say it. Cleveland is a better destination for Kelly. The Browns are open to new ideas to and they didn't keep their Buddy Nix.
For the Bills I like the idea of the Syracuse coach, Doug Marrone. While he doesn't appear to be a leader in analytics, I'd consider him as someone who'd be willing to employ them. Someone not frozen to the antiquated axioms of the sport's past. He also scores checkmarks in several other of my columns, and I like that he's already in the region. Ideally our next coach is, colloquially speaking, one of us. If he's interested in a big raise and a much higher profile, let's talk to him. He's done a big job turning a moribund Syracuse program into a quality team again.
Despite how limiting my attitude about this search may seem, there are surely plenty of candidates that deserve consideration. Interview them and see what happens. I think the coaches at Texas A&M, West Virginia and Baylor are worth talking to, if only for learning more about their style and vision.
Maybe these visionairies exist at the NFL level too, but if they do they're unknown to me. Perhaps they're assistants, or apprentices, stifled by a boss with no interest in changing methodologies that go back years, or decades.
Maybe, on a different level, Russ Brandon is one of them.