Two weeks ago Terry and Kim Pegula were handed an impromptu challenge of the highest order facing an NFL club. Being faced with the unexpected departure of a head coach Buffalo's new ownership had to act swiftly and answer their own questions about what was best for their organization moving forward. With time constraints for coaching candidate availability working against them Buffalo's ownership proved themselves not only capable, but likely improved the fortunes of their team in the process.
Terry Pegula said he was "shocked" by his now former head coach's decision, but he and Kim Pegula did not dwell on what transpired. They instead focused their efforts on what was in front of them with team President Russ Brandon and GM Doug Whaley helping to navigate what became an on-the-fly coaching search.
One of the most challenging aspects was acting quickly to set up interviews with potential coaching candidates knowing the limited time constraints with some coaches still tasked with preparing game plans for playoff games.
On the same day the club announced their former head coach's departure the Pegulas had interview requests delivered with interviews taking place in the next few days that followed.
"I think that we were fortunate that Russ (Brandon) and Doug (Whaley) had experience," said Terry Pegula. "They sort of mobilized the team. I knew we needed a coach and it was, 'Well, ok what do we do next?' Well, these guys started the process. We had some lists. I talked to guys that I know in the league. We put the schedule together and flew around the country. All the way through it, it was a total four-person team that put it all together."
Committed to blending their thoughts into one collective vision for the franchise, they engaged in lively discussions during their travel about what kind of coach was the best fit for a team coming off a 9-7 season.
As the Pegula family begins their ownership of the Buffalo Bills, here are photos of their first day at One Bills Drive.
"We went into this process very open-minded, the four of us," said Terry Pegula of himself, his wife Kim, team President Russ Brandon and GM Doug Whaley. "There was a lot of arguing, a lot of debating, which is always healthy. It is not a sign of dysfunction. We did not know what kind of, or who our coach was going to be. Is it going to be a young new mind? Is it going to be a veteran coach?
"As the process continued, we decided that where our team is right now, we were basically the only team looking for a head coach who did not fire their head coach the year before. So we decided that, after talking, that maybe we should go the veteran route, and because of where our team is."
After more than a handful of coaching candidates were interviewed the Pegulas, along with Brandon and Whaley, met with Rex Ryan.
"Rex Ryan coached teams have two characteristics: they're always great defensively, and they always work hard," Pegula said. "Rex instills that in his players. Our goal as an organization is to build a team that is a nightmare to play against. So, that was our objective."
Ryan's first interview went so well that the Pegulas scheduled a second interview with the former Jets coach a few days later.
"The first round of the interviews had broad-type questions," said Pegula. "When we called him back and got into the nitty gritty, Doug hit him with all this stuff. That's when we knew that Rex could be our coach, if he wanted to be. We just felt that he was our guy and trust me, we had some pretty impressive people that we felt could be the Bills coach, but we said, 'Hey, let's go after Rex.' Russ told me, 'Don't let him out of the building.'"
Contract negotiations soon followed and in short order Ryan became the 18th head coach in franchise history.
As accomplished as Ryan is as an NFL coach, it was his ability to capably lead an entire football team that additionally appealed to Buffalo's ownership. They saw Ryan's strong leadership as a way to implement their vision for the club moving forward.
"With the staff that Rex is building, and with his knowledge of the game, we're going to be a tough team and I love it," Pegula said.
In his introductory press conference Ryan commented on how he was sold on the Bills opportunity because of the unifying approach the Pegulas had imparted on the franchise.
"This is the shot that I wanted, but I wanted to make sure that everybody had the same vision; that I could feel it, and, with Russ, Doug, Terry and Kim, that's what I felt," said Ryan. "I know the passion, it's not just my passion, it's everybody's passion. We want to bring a championship to Buffalo. There is no doubt, and I felt it. And I felt there was one direction, and one vision for the team. As Terry likes to say, 'We have one ego.' And that's exactly right. When he hired me that ego got a little bigger."
So did Buffalo's prospects for future success. With the top positions on the football side of the organization filled by men who come from winning backgrounds, the Pegulas believe the right pieces are in place.
"The guy on the end here came out of the Steelers organization," said Pegula referencing GM Doug Whaley. "We know what they're like. You're getting a taste of what Rex (Ryan) is like. I think the community knows what Kim and I are like. Russ (Brandon) has been with the Bills, he loves Buffalo and he loves the area. We're all joined at the hip now and we all feel a good vibe."
In facing their first major test as NFL owners, the Pegulas not only had it resolved, but in all likelihood upgraded their situation in the span of two weeks. Perhaps even more important they have fortified the leadership on the football side of the organization. The Ryan hire served as notice that the Bills immediate future has an even brighter outlook.