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Terry Pegula regards talk of Bills dysfunction as an “insult”

Bills owner Terry Pegula has criticized the media for calling his team dysfunctional but is he ignoring the facts about his team?

The sports media rarely agrees on much. In the aftermath of the January 2 press conference from Bills G.M. Doug Whaley (during which Whaley said, among plenty of other confusing things, that he didn’t know why coach Rex Ryan was fired), the sports media universally came to the conclusion that the Buffalo Bills are dysfunctional.

The word sounds worse than it is. It simply means that something isn’t functioning in the usual way. When the General Manager of a football team doesn’t know why a coach was fired and had no involvement in the decision and no natural curiosity about what just happened, things aren’t functioning in the usual way.

Bills owner Terry Pegula previously took issue with the perception (reality) of dysfunction within the team. In an extended interview with Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, Pegula went on the offensive with the notion that he finds the criticism to be offensive.

“I know how I run my life, run our business,” Terry Pegula said. “I know how we treat people, and I know the people we have in our organization. You can’t pin 17 years on the Pegulas. We’ve been around for X-number of years. There’s no foundation, no truth to this dysfunctional talk. I consider it an insult to our organization and the Bills and the good people with the Sabres. They can’t be real happy to hear that.”

It’s not about whether people are happy or not to hear criticism. Regardless of whether criticism is fair, criticism goes with the territory of owning, operating, and working for a professional sports team. How ownership reacts to the criticism is telling, and the Pegulas aren’t reacting very well.

“I think that all started with some false information printed in the national media about our organization,” Terry Pegula said regarding opinions that the Bills coaching job should be avoided. “I’ve got to believe it’s from people who have no idea what our organization’s like or how we operate within. I honestly believe that. I disagree with their opinions, and I can tell you one thing: We had a lot of applications and people who wanted that coaching job with the Bills. So I don’t know what these guys are writing about.”

What these guys are writing about is the mess of a press conference from Whaley, which painted a picture of inherent dysfunction. It raised plenty of questions that, hopefully, new coach Sean McDermott or his agent asked before signing the contract to coach the team. Questions like: Who do I report to? What is Doug Whaley’s actual authority? Why did you decide to keep him and not Ryan? Can I call ownership if I have any concerns about whether the front office is functioning in a normal and proper way? Who is Russ Brandon and what influence does he have over my ongoing employment and should I listen to him when he tries to tell me something or should I tell him to get out of my office?

Those are fair questions flowing from Whaley’s press conference. And “dysfunction” is a fair and accurate label to apply to the situation. The Pegulas can either harumph about it, or they can listen to the criticism and make changes aimed at reversing the perception that the team currently is a mess.

“Obviously, we don’t like stuff like that being said about us personally or about our community,” co-owner Kim Pegula told Graham. “We’re proud of Buffalo.”

But this isn’t about the community or about Buffalo. While it’s smart to try to get the fans to regard the criticism directed at the team as criticism directed at the fans personally, the fans are smart enough to know that they didn’t make this mess -- and that the people calling out the Bills organization are actually trying to help improve the team, which is what the fans ultimately want.

It’s clear what the husband-and-wife billionaires who own the Bills want. They don’t want to be criticized. Which reminds me of an observation a very wise man once told me: The only thing better than being rich and famous is being rich.