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ROCKPILE REVIEW - The View from 2019


Shaw66
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On Memorial Day, three years ago, I posted the following essay on The Stadium Wall.  I'm still pinching myself to be sure I'm not dreaming.

 

“The Hopeless Optimist”

 

I know I’m probably heading for a big crash, but I can’t help it: I think the golden age of the Buffalo Bills is upon us.  I think we are about to witness the greatest run of excellence in the history of the franchise, and one of the greatest of all time in the NFL.

 

Maybe it’s just because I’ve lived a long life and been fortunate to have had a lot of good things happen around me.   About the only good thing that hasn’t happened is true greatness for my football team.  I was there for the AFL championships and the Super Bowls.  Now it’s time to go all the way.

 

Whatever the reason, I can’t talk myself out of believing the Bills are about to take off.  It’s not that I expect the 2019 Bills to be great – someplace in the 9-7 to 7-9 range once again this year; what I expect is that the 2020 Bills will be a solid playoff team and a regular preseason Super Bowl contender after that.  It could come a year earlier or a year later, but it’s coming.

 

“WHAT??!!!  You can’t be serious,” readers scream.

 

I’m serious.  I’m serious for the combination of several reasons.

 

1.        The Process

 

I keep listening to McDermott and Beane, learning about what they are doing.  If I understand it, I think it will work to build a team that is a powerhouse for many seasons.

 

It’s about continuous improvement, getting better at your job.  McDermott says it over and over.  Get better every day.  That’s why they want rookies.   They want the benefit of a football player for ten years, getting better year after after year. 

 

Part of the genius of that system is that new guys get pulled up to level of the rest of the team pretty quickly.  When the team is playing at a good level, rookies come in and learn quickly to play at the good level.  When the team is great, rookies come in and learn to play at the great level.  McDermott saw Andy Reid do it, and he’s watched Bill Belichick do it.

 

Everyone is challenged to get better, game after game, season after season.  Players are challenged.  Coaches are challenged, too.  McDermott is expected to improve.  Daboll is expected to improve.  Frazier.  Everyone.  If you aren’t working to improve, you aren’t part of the process.

 

No player is guaranteed a job, and every player knows that he will sit or worse as soon as someone comes along who does it better.  And the players are happy with that, because they understand they are part of a bigger process.  If they’ve worked hard and made the team better, they will share in the team’s future success, because they were part of building the platform from which it all took off.   I guarantee that when McDermott wins a Super Bowl in Buffalo, Kyle Williams will know that he owns a part of that trophy.

 

Continuous improvement.

 

2.        The Coach

 

My apologies to the lifelong atheists in the crowd, but there’s no way to describe McDermott except in religious terms.   He’s organizing a cult, with avid followers who get high on the Word.  It’s his personal version of The 300, with everyone doing his job, doing anything, for the benefit of everyone else, with a little of Andy of Mayberry wholesome goodness thrown it.  

 

He practices what he preaches.  He’s about doing the right thing all the time, preparing, learning, communicating.   He lives in a world where everyone earns what he gets, and everyone understands why they sometimes don’t get what they tried to earn.  He expects a Lombardi Trophy and nothing less, and he understands that if he doesn’t get it, someone else better will get the job.   And he’s okay with that.  He imposes that world on his players, and he expects them to be okay with it, so he must be okay with it, too. 

 

He cares about everyone in his organization, and he wants everyone in the organization to care, too.   Was there an element of commercialism in how McDermott and the Bills adopted PanchoBilla in his final weeks?  Sure.  But there was genuine caring and concern, too, and there was genuine grief at the end.

 

Is McDermott perfect?  No.  Does he make mistakes?  Plenty.  But it’s about continuous improvement, learning and getting better very day.  He WILL get better, because he won’t accept less from himself.   And don’t forget, he took his first head coaching job at about the same age as Bill Belichick, and Belichick made mistakes for years before he hit his stride.  McDermott is growing into greatness.

 

McDermott does it right, and by doing it right, those around him do it right, too.

 

3.        The GM

 

I just love Beane.  I love his calculating approach to his job.   Analyze, make a decision, evaluate, move on.  Analyze, make a decision, evaluate, move one.  No wasted motion. 

 

Beane’s the Chief Operating Officer of the cult.  His primary job is to keep a fresh supply of qualified devotees on hand for them to study at the feet of the master.  He believes in the process, and he believes in McDermott.  He believes that if he continues to deliver the right players, McDermott will deliver the Lombardi.

 

Beane’s fearless.  He’s willing to make a decision and accept the consequences.  He doesn’t fret over the mistakes; he just moves on to the next decision.  

 

He’s willing to make the bold move. 

 

4.        The QB

 

It’s completely obvious that Beane and McDermott are selecting players the way they said they would: they want players who are intense and non-stop competitors, players who always want to get better, players who are driven to work at their craft every day. They want disciples.   Others need not apply. 

 

The latest example is Jerry Hughes, who has evolved from an occasionally flashy, occasionally frustrating athlete to superior all-around football player and leader.   It didn’t seem possible three years ago. 

 

Hughes’s contract extension says two things – that he’s matured into the kind of player and leader that McDermott wants to win with, and that Hughes can see that the Bills are the kind of organization that make him a better and more successful player.  Hughes wants to be part of the success that McDermott and Beane are building; he is a disciple.  And he isn’t the only one.

 

What does that have to do with the quarterback?   Just this: the quarterback is the most important player on the field, and therefore the quarterback has to be the lead disciple.  In Josh Allen, Beane and McDermott found their guy.   He loves to compete.  He loves to learn – you can see it and hear it in his interviews.   He’s so much more mature, he has so much more understanding of the game, than we saw a year ago.  He handles his duties in press conferences almost flawlessly, giving thoughtful answers, deftly avoiding difficult issues, rarely being flustered.   He desperately wants to do it right, on the field and off, and McDermott thrives on that attitude.  

 

Belichick got his ideal disciple in Brady.  McDermott got his in Allen.  And, by the way, McDermott also got 6’5”, 240 pounds, speed, mobility and a rocket arm.  I think Allen is destined for greatness, because he has all the tools, mental, physical and emotional, and he has the perfect mentor.  A match made, if you believe in that sort of stuff, in heaven.

 

5.        The Owners

 

How perfect is it that leading this whole effort is a pair of owners who are true believers in the process?  They’ve lived the process, they’ve reaped the financial and personal benefits of doing it right, and now they’ve found a coach and a GM who preach the process. 

 

They’re believers in continuity.  They know being great takes time, because it took them time, and they’re willing to give Beane and McDermott time to reach the goal.  

 

They’re the big donors in the cult.  When the GM says he needs new facilities to attract and train the kind of disciples who will win football games, the owners say yes.  When McDermott says he needs another coach, they back him. 

 

And they’re good people, just like McDermott and Beane and Kyle and Jerry and Josh.  It’s like they’re all from Mayberry. 

 

The NFL is a club, and the club members already are proud to have colleagues like Kim and Terry.  Colleagues who can be counted on to have one eye on the bottom line and the other on their moral compass.   Bills fans can be proud, too.

 

 

There it is.  Something approaching the perfect combination of ownership, leadership and players committed to a process that will work.

 

We’ve waited a long time for this.  It’s going to be special.

 

Count me in the cult.

 

 

GO BILLS!!!

 

The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were everyday people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.

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Signed in to acknowledge.  Re-reading you is as worthwhile as reading you.  You captured essence looking at wisps of swirling smoke.

 

And miles to go before I sleep.

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I think starting this season we begin years of amazing success. The process, GM, QB and ownership is all lined up like the stars. The roster is ridiculous and from a Christian standpoint hopefully McD can avoid any future coaching sins.  If that happens we're winning multiple SB's.

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1 hour ago, Shaw66 said:

It’s his personal version of The 300

 

First, props for calling it.  Many of us maybe thought or hoped those things, but you put it out there for all to see.  Since it could have been thrown in your face if you were wrong, it is only right that we give you a victory lap.  As someone who sometimes forgets what happened earlier in the day, I appreciate you posting this.  I've enjoyed your reviews quite a bit and this gives me another opportunity to say, great job.

 

Second, I had to smile at the above line...because I think it is funny and pretty accurate....and a good analogy.  People who have argued against character or the process mattering sometimes say things like - well, all professional athletes are great, they all try, etc.  I know I have heard Schopp say things like that.  That is the same thing as could have been said about the Athenians or the Corinthians, but the Spartans were set apart because among all the great fighters, they had developed a culture which demanded disciples, as you put it.  Those that were willing to do anything to be the best.  (side note - the Spartans really did do crazy, crazy, sometimes evil things that should never be replicated).  

 

Closely tied to that is their philosophy of a leader in every room.  Why keep Lee Smith as long as we did?  Because he would not allow the other TEs to slack.  I can't prove it, but I'm sure he helped shape Knox.  Why Frank Gore?  Because he demanded a level of commitment from the young pups in the RB room.

 

The real positive sign is that - once you have this started, it is easier to keep going.  It is also possible now to take in some people that are NOT perfect for the process.  They can be neutral to start because the strong leaders will drag them along until they get it.

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Posted (edited)

You could see Allen had the "It Factor" despite all the experts clucking about completion percentage. McBeane had the air of quiet competence. And our owners? I will love Terry forever for saving the Bills, and that's not an exaggeration. But I think he's smart enough to not mess up a good thing. Same with the Sabres, finally.

Edited by PromoTheRobot
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Well said Shaw. During that time I could not help but share the same feelings. 

 

All that's missing is a championship (or two), to prove to the world what we've known for years now. 

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20 minutes ago, Long Suffering Fan said:

 

 

People who have argued against character or the process mattering sometimes say things like - well, all professional athletes are great, they all try, etc.  I know I have heard Schopp say things like that.  That is the same thing as could have been said about the Athenians or the Corinthians, but the Spartans were set apart because among all the great fighters, they had developed a culture which demanded disciples, as you put it.  Those that were willing to do anything to be the best.  (side note - the Spartans really did do crazy, crazy, sometimes evil things that should never be replicated).  

 

Closely tied to that is their philosophy of a leader in every room.  Why keep Lee Smith as long as we did?  Because he would not allow the other TEs to slack.  I can't prove it, but I'm sure he helped shape Knox.  Why Frank Gore?  Because he demanded a level of commitment from the young pups in the RB room.

 

The real positive sign is that - once you have this started, it is easier to keep going.  It is also possible now to take in some people that are NOT perfect for the process.  They can be neutral to start because the strong leaders will drag them along until they get it.

This is a great explanation of what McDermott said he would do, and what he continues to do.  Especially the leader in every room.  I'm glad you explained that.   Von Miller, too.

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22 minutes ago, Long Suffering Fan said:

Closely tied to that is their philosophy of a leader in every room.  Why keep Lee Smith as long as we did?  Because he would not allow the other TEs to slack.  I can't prove it, but I'm sure he helped shape Knox.  Why Frank Gore?  Because he demanded a level of commitment from the young pups in the RB room.

 

Good point! I know that's technically the coaches' responsibility, but people respond better to their peers than to management, especially when the peers are seasoned vets. (I think we could add Shady to your list of examples too.)

 

 

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It’s great going into a season having genuine Championship ambitions…

 

Sure beats the preceding 2 decades where the Bills were just making up the numbers…

 

Still… they gotta take that last step and get it done…

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2 hours ago, PromoTheRobot said:

You could see Allen had the "It Factor" despite all the experts clucking about completion percentage. McBeane had the air of quiet competence. And our owners? I will love Terry forever for saving the Bills, and that's not an exaggeration. But I think he's smart enough to not mess up a good thing. Same with the Sabres, finally.

the multi-team trade-up to get Josh was complicated and masterful, trading with the Bengals to move up from 21 and then again into the top 10 which was even more difficult considering denver pulled-out cuz the one guy (Chubb) was still avail to them...then we were still able to draft Edmunds in the first round as well...getting a franchise qb without overpaying and still getting another first--rounder is an amazing, smart achievement...those are hall of fame GM moves

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5 hours ago, Shaw66 said:

On Memorial Day, three years ago, I posted the following essay on The Stadium Wall.  I'm still pinching myself to be sure I'm not dreaming

Ok I will allow you one LAMP post given your announcing your swan song. 😎

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11 hours ago, freddyjj said:

Ok I will allow you one LAMP post given your announcing your swan song. 😎

I never knew what LAMP stood for.  Looked it up.  Guilty as charged.  I'm proud that I saw it so clearly back then.  What amazes me is that back then it sounded too good to be true and yet, here we are.   Of course, it ain't over until the fat lady sings, so Mrs. Pegula bet get herself to Ted's and start bulking up.  

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16 hours ago, Shaw66 said:

Yeah.  I'm afraid to look at some of the others.  I probably wrote the same thing in 2012!

Ha, I relatively recently (prob around 2019) found a cache of a long exchange of Bills-related emails from around 2009 with one of the most negative fans I know (and a bunch of others mostly neutral to positive) and he's advocating for how the Bills should have Chad Henne as he's going to be one of the true greats. I was going to laugh condescendingly and re-send until I noticed that another friend and I were vigorously defending Trent Edwards as still a possible starter in the NFL. Henne at least lasted in the league.

 

What a great post! It's not that you recognized they were on an upswing, but you pretty accurately and thoroughly identified the reasons--so many of which were very in doubt at the time.

 

FWIW, McDermott was the first coach that I remembered truly being happy about when he was hired. I'm always positive about the Bills except for the coaching for some reason. Levy, I was in NYC and was 13 and didn't really even notice he was hired or who he was. Phillips: meh, just too much hype and it felt like fans were itching a bit too hard to push Marv out. Greggo: there was someone else I wanted (maybe Marvin Lewis) and the whole blowing them away with charts seemed the weakest of tea. Mularkey: just did not strike me as anything special. Jauron: what a phone-in of a pick. Gailey: two phone-ins in a row. hard to really hate him and wanted to see him succeed, but nothing exciting about the hire. Marrone: so-so coaching record at Syracuse and seemed a jerk from the start. Really hated this hire. Ryan: Well, I didn't think he would be good (lived in NYC throughout his Jets tenure), but knew he would at least be entertaining and this was so far into the drought that I didn't hate it even if I could not rationalize that it would help them win. McDermott seemed like a genuine head coaching prospect with great mentors. 

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