We've all heard how he wasn't at the top of Buffalo's list in the early stages of the Bills search for a new head coach. The Pegulas, along with President Russ Brandon and GM Doug Whaley, didn't sit down with Rex Ryan until they were a full week into candidate interviews. But the veteran coach obviously changed the dynamics of the Bills' search for a new sideline boss. Here's how.
Owners Terry and Kim Pegula had to formulate a plan in short order after their previous head coach chose to opt out of his contract with the club just days after the regular season had concluded. With the assistance of Brandon and Whaley, who had just gone through a whirlwind coaching search two years prior, they promptly scheduled interviews with coaching candidates on bye weeks before their playoff games.
In the week that followed those time sensitive interviews, Buffalo's hierarchy interviewed several other candidates and Ryan was among them. But Kim Pegula admitted that the former Jets head coach was added to their list more based on his availability than their collective interest in him as a viable candidate.
"Rex was a candidate that we put in there because his name was all around and he was a candidate who was available," said Pegula. "We really didn't give much thought to him and we had interviewed a lot of people before him."
Brandon and Whaley stressed the importance of keeping an open mind throughout the process, and the Pegulas were committed to doing so with any and all candidates. By the sound of it however, Ryan's personality would've won just about any interviewer over.
"He came in and I think we were just very pleasantly surprised at how very down to earth he really was in person," Pegula said. "His love of the game and some of the things he said with what he really wanted to do with his life and how he wanted to help us as part of the team. I think that really resonated with Terry and I. It was a real surprise I'll admit because he was not a candidate that we had on the top of our list as, 'Wow this is the guy we want. Let's go get him.' We just wanted to stay really open minded about everybody."
Pegula admitted that their interview with Ryan was probably the shortest in duration of all the candidates they sat down with to discuss the job. After a week of intense interviewing and travel the quartet of questioners had become a bit weary.
Nevertheless Whaley was taken by how parallel Ryan's approach to winning in the NFL was to his own principles of developing a perennial contender.
"For me his philosophy on how to build a championship team, a consistent championship team is exactly the way I think a team should be built," said Whaley. "It's proven. This past postseason everybody was talking about the conference championship games and the four quarterbacks in there were unbelievable quarterbacks, but the common theme in both of those games was the running game. A running game and a defense is a quarterback's best friend. And those types of teams consistently compete for championships.
"I knew when he started talking about how he wanted to build a team and I could complete his sentences and he could complete mine in how we want the Buffalo Bills to look we were on the same page."
Not long after the interview with Ryan had concluded the Pegulas along with Brandon and Whaley had reached a consensus rather quickly.
"He came in and really elevated himself to the top position where we said, 'Hey we've got to have another talk with this guy,'" said Kim Pegula of Ryan.
"It was funny because at the start of the process Kim and Terry asked me who my favorite was and I said, 'You can't go in with any preconceived notions of what you want and what you like. You've got to go in with an open mind so you don't have any biases,'" said Whaley. "And at that point Kim said, 'Well then how do you know?' I said, 'Unfortunately it's like when I asked people who were married and I was single. How do you know? You just know.' And when we got to that point we all looked at each other and knew that Rex was the guy who we wanted to be our next head coach."
But the Pegulas as well as Brandon and Whaley wanted to proceed with caution. They thought they had found the right man for the job, but in the wake of an unexpected departure by the previous head coach it was important for them to be certain Ryan wanted to coach in Buffalo.
"The second interview we just wanted to gauge his interest in us as well and whether or not he really was interested," said Kim Pegula. "And we knew if he came back for a second interview we thought we'd have a shot."
There were other NFL head coaching opportunities still vacant at the time for which Ryan was a candidate, so the Bills ownership wasn't certain about the response they would get for a second interview.
Two days after their initial interview on Thursday, Jan. 8th, Ryan agreed to interview with the Bills a second time on Saturday.
"The first interview you do more philosophy, scheme, coaching staff and the second interview was more the day-to-day operations of how he runs his program," said Whaley. "It goes all the way from who sits in first class on team travel to how he's going to dole out fines, to meetings and scheduling. So if he gets the job we can hit the ground running. I know what to expect from him and help anticipate the things that he'll need."
Terry Pegula publicly admitted a lot of those detailed questions bored him in the second interview. He and his wife Kim were more focused on ensuring that the coach they hired would be a person that respected the Buffalo community.
"I asked about his interest in Buffalo, his feelings about Buffalo, whether he had a connection and what his thoughts were," said Kim Pegula. "That was more my input in those areas. We really wanted somebody who somehow connected to Buffalo in some way or another and had a positive image of it. Just really trying to gauge his interest. We wanted someone who wanted to be in Buffalo and that's where my questions were probing."
Ryan, who spent eight years of his childhood in Toronto, had developed an affinity for the American Football League, being exposed to a lot of AFL games on television living north of the border. That combined with traveling with his dad, Buddy Ryan, an assistant coach with the Jets in the late 60's, to most of the Jets road game in Buffalo as a teenager provided the connection the Pegulas were looking for.
"We felt he really understood the feeling of Buffalo and the type of the people that we have and are so proud of," Kim Pegula said. "So that was an easy sell on our part."
To more effectively stabilize the state of the team the Pegulas also had a desire to have a coach that not only fit the profile of the job, but was at a point in his career where he could serve in the position for several years.
"We didn't look at all the things that some might associate with that job whether he was likable or his salary or his experience," said Kim Pegula. "We just wanted somebody that we felt would not be a head coach in the short term, but we felt had a chance to be a long term head coach. As we looked at our requirements and checking off the boxes, we just said, 'Ok, check, check, check here.' We just felt he was the best head coach that fit this team right now and all the other stuff was just icing on the cake."
With the Bills as close to qualifying for the playoffs as they've been in a decade in 2014, Buffalo's front office believes the right head coach could provide the difference to finally break through to the postseason.
"The way we looked at it with where our team is we're scratching at the door and knocking at the door and we want to kick that door down," said Whaley. "So we didn't want a guy who was learning on the job. We wanted a guy who has been there and done that before and not have those missteps of a first-time head coach. It all came together with Rex."
Rex Ryan arrives in Buffalo and tours the ADPRO Sports Training Center for the first time as the 18th Head Coach in Bills history.