This is the second of a ten part series dedicated to the worst moments or games in the history of the Buffalo Bills. As hard as some of these moments have been, we Bills fans wear our hearts on sleeves and consider some of these events badges of honor. Enjoy.
In 2001, the Buffalo Bills were at a franchise crossroads. John Butler had just bolted for San Diego and Ralph Wilson was retiring as president. Wilson wanted someone who could take over the GM position AND run the daily operations of the team. This person needed to carry on the proud tradition of the Bills franchise.
The team was already in a state of major transition. Wade Phillips had just been relieved of his coaching duties after three seasons. All the big “glory years” players that were left such as Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed were gone. Players that both contributed and were popular among fans like Doug Flutie, Marcellus Wiley and John Holecek were either cut or left for other teams.
So who would want to take on such a daunting task? Enter Tom Donahoe, former Pittsburgh Steelers GM from 1991-1999. Donahoe came to Buffalo with a very impressive resume. He was responsible for many great 90’s Steelers teams, including the Super Bowl XXX squad. He came to the Bills after spending a year at ESPN. His exit in Pittsburgh was rumored to be due to the “power struggle” that occurred between him and head coach Bill Cowher.
In many fans’ eyes, this was perceived as the perfect move by the Bills. The team hires a successful executive that worked for one of the greatest franchises that has the smarts and track record to handle both the GM and President’s position. Most importantly he wanted the job.
There are points, instances or examples that one can point to when a team is bad for quite a long time and say to themselves “that is where they set themselves back four or five years.” Tom Donahoe was that instance. Donahoe turned out to be possibly the worst GM the Bills had ever hired and truly set the team back years in which they still haven’t recovered.
The Bills were 31-49 during Donahoe’s five year span in Buffalo. This tied Cleveland for the third fewest wins in the league in that time span. This included a 2001 season in which the Bills went 3-13 which at the time was considered the gold standard for bad seasons in Buffalo. Donahoe’s best time in Buffalo came in 2004 in which the Bills have had their only winning season in the past twelve years. However, in an ironic twist that exemplified the Donahoe era the Bills lost to Pittsburgh’s second and third stringers in a game in which they just had to WIN and they were in the playoffs.
Donahoe drafted just three players in his tenure that made the Pro Bowl. Good teams draft three players a year that make the Pro Bowl. The worst draft came in 2004 when the team was really set back. The Bills drafted Lee Evans with their first selection and proceeded to trade up to grab Tulane QB JP Losman. This trade included their 2005 first rounder. Losman ended up being a big bust and Evans was traded this year after cooler heads realized he didn’t do much other than run fly routes.
He was famous for drafting players at positions in which the Bills were already set. Drafting Willis “I hate Buffalo” McGahee when they already had a very productive Travis Henry was most well known. McGahee was also a year away from playing after destroying his knee at Miami in a bowl game. He also loved letting players walk that were still playing at a high level like Pat Williams.
Donahoe also set the team back by hiring Mike Mularkey, an underachieving “offensive mind” from Pittsburgh. Mularkey was best known for feeding the team cheeseburgers to help them perform on Sundays. He wasn’t entirely bad as he did coach the 2004 team that had a winning record, but he left due to the stress that his family was feeling in Buffalo. Mularkey ultimately did not have the nerve to command the Bills in Buffalo and that is something that Donahoe should have seen from his days in Pittsburgh.
Hiring Mularkey and Gregg Williams were especially bad considering the talent that was out there for the taking. John Fox and Marvin Lewis were available when he hired Gregg Williams and Lovie Smith was available when he hired Mike Mularkey. All three of these coaches have had much more success than both of these coaches combined.
Worse yet, Donahoe made Marv Levy look like a genius. Truth is Marv Levy was a terrible GM that had some pretty bad drafts, but he was a “breath of fresh air” and a “cooler head” than Tom Donahoe. This included the famous 2006 draft when Levy left Bills fans scratching their head when they drafted Donte Whitner and John McCargo in the first round. Not to mention Levy hired Dick Jauron which set the team back another few years. Still, Levy was still never on the same plane of awful-ness when it came to Tom Donahoe.
Let’s hope that Tom Donahoe continues to be the gold standard for bad GM hires for the Bills. As fans, did we ever think we would see the day when we are thanking our lucky stars that we have Buddy Nix as our GM? Go Bills!