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Sources: Disconnect between youngsters, 'lifers' in Bills organization

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Buffalo Bills' top executives view their team as a family. Many of the front office's most important members have been in place for generations.

Newer folks in the organization, including coaches, refer to these people as "lifers."

That's not a compliment.

As written this morning, key coaching staffers and scouts are frustrated with organizational fixtures who're considered behind the times.

Doug Marrone was the club's first head coach to be hired from the college ranks, and Doug Whaley became their youngest general manager last year.

Marrone and Whaley clearly view football in a fresher way than the franchise is accustomed.

Team sources have told me here at the NFL scouting combine the coaching staff wants to replace 30-year athletic trainer Bud Carpenter but have run into opposition within the board room.

And the dissatisfaction doesn't stop there.

Scouts and coaches have been aggravated with decisions made by chief financial officer Jeffrey C. Littmann (with the team since 1986), senior vice president of football administration Jim Overdorf (with the team since 1986) and senior vice president of communications Scott Berchtold (with the team since 1989).

Littmann long has set the team's budget for owner Ralph Wilson.

Overdorf oversees all player contracts. Overdorf, not Whaley, will handle contract negotiations for Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd. Same as last year. Overdorf reports not to Whaley, but to CEO Russ Brandon.

Berchtold is responsible for helping Marrone and Whaley deal with the media. Bills coaches refer to Berchtold as the team's "sports information director," a term colleges use for their flacks. Berchtold doesn't like that.

Marrone and Whaley -- unusual young guns compared to the Tom Modraks, Dick Jaurons and Chan Gaileys the Bills have hired in the past -- want to fix the team's this-is-the-way-we've-always-done-it culture.

But Marrone and Whaley haven't made as much headway as they'd like over the past year and have grown increasingly frustrated, sources tell me.

Brandon replaced owner Ralph Wilson as the team's president and CEO 14 months ago, hired Marrone and promoted Whaley to replace Buddy Nix.

But team sources tell me executives such as Littmann, Overdorf and Berchtold still hold too much sway and haven't afforded Whaley or Marrone as much control as either feels he needs to correct a losing culture.

These sources tell me Marrone and Whaley would like more control over personnel decisions, especially free agents.

The sources say Marrone and Whaley feel they've been hung out to dry in certain media situations that made them and the team look bad.

Examples of the latter were how Marrone handled pass-rusher Mario Williams' foot injury in training camp and how Marrone botched addressing quarterback EJ Manuel's knee injury at the end of last season.

The Bills haven't been to the playoffs since the 1999 season, the NFL's longest active drought.

  • WHAT?

    Sounds like another "news source." Hard to judge the accuracy of any of this when all you have is "sources." Could be from the main players, could be from low level training staff. Or maybe just someone with a grudge. Or someone trying to create problems for competitive reasons. Junk story. More and more of the News sports staff just sound like they are tired of sports and tired of doing the work.

    • Guest

      Jeff Littman? Is that you? It's about damn time this story has come out, Littman, Jim Overdorf and the rest of the bean counters at OBD need to go. Still, Russ NEEDS to let the Doug's have full power. This is ridiculous.

      • Bill Garrison

        I completely agree...they need to go. Oh and for the guy you replied to....the reason you have "sources" is so they can keep their jobs. If it was either of the Doug's or anyone in a position to know these things and their name was leaked as the "source"...bubye...fired...gone. Stop being ignorant.

        • WHAT?

          It's not being ignorant. It's impossible to judge the accuracy of any story without knowing the sources. It's the opposite of being ignorant, it's being skeptical. There has been an increasing tendency by News staff to try and create controversy. This is the same writer that told Jairus Byrd (in the original draft of the article) that the Bills front office wanted him to play poorly to justify not paying him. His credibility is shot.

          • Jb

            It's basic Journalism. There are unnamed sources. Stuff wouldn't get reported if people were fearing for their jobs whenever they spoke, which is what would happen if they let their names be public. Helloooo Deepthroat.

          • WHAT?

            And Deep Throat's allegations had to be proven from separate sources before they were used. That's basic journalism. That's why the famous line "follow the money" was so important. This article is unsubstantiated rumor.

          • Rick from cinci, bills fan

            I would assume that those executives would prefer winning to losing, however no one knows how they are measured by the owner. Most likely, their MBO's are a mixture of financial metrics with an emphasis on bottom line performance which in the NFL is pretty easy since it's a quasi socialist system. Ralph will not let the power shift too much. Marrone and company will have to work within the existing culture to get what they want. Over time, they may be able to gain power by winning the small battles. It's an uphill climb until ownership changes.

          • Jeff in Chicago

            this isn't some guy who writes for his own blog, this is a Pulitzer-Prize nominated journalist. he has been good enough for ESPN and was president of the Boxing Writers Assoc of America. he didn't just buy a laptop, interview sources without vetting them and post it to twitter. this is an accomplished journalist. "unnamed sources" are what allow readers a behind the scenes look without throwing anyone under a bus. this is not Frank at the office who talks out of his @$$. "yeah, i guy told me." do you think his editor says, "no source, no story?" he has to go through the proper channels to get his work published. if the stories are not true, he loses his credibility and that's all a reporter has. and they don't nominated reporters for Pulitzers if they don't have credibility.

            this story has been a long time coming.

  • AGD

    Great reporting by Tim Graham, as usual. If you knew nothing about the Buffalo Bills organizationally, you would suspect something like this was the cause of the dysfunction and losing culture. Russ Brandon probably doesn't have the power to get rid of Littmann, Overdorf, and Berchtold -- and that really means that Ralph's still running the show and that Brandon taking the reins was just for show. Of course, Brandon, Littmann, Overdorf, and Berchtold will never work for another team in the NFL, so when Ralph passes, they're all out of jobs. Not so with Marrone and Whaley. And that's the principal source of tension here.

  • JoeL

    This sounds about right, it makes sense. I will guess Marrone is fed up (tipping point Byrd contract as it is mentioned here). So he leaks to Graham hoping to create momentum for a showdown over who is going to run this team. Let's hope Brandon wins.

  • Whappened_to_us

    You're missing the point. Here's the numbers Bills' fans care about: 18/54 (playoff appearances/seasons), 10/29 since 1986. Here's the numbers Ralphie cares about: $25K/$1 billion, (franchise value 1960/2014). In Ralphie's eyes, "the lifers" have been very, very successful. Why get rid of them? It's Ralph's right to run his business the way he chooses. He has screamed small market poverty every minute of the last 54 years...becoming a billionaire in the process. He has taken untold sums from the community. What has he returned? Out of the goodness of his heart, he's agreed "to keep the team in Buffalo." Terry Pegula has put more into the community in 3 years than Wilson ever has in 54.

    • Jeff in Chicago

      what a dream set-up in Green Bay. public ownership managed by a board of
      trustees. that's gotta absolutely drive the owners (and other
      billionaires) crazy that they can't get their hands on it or influence
      one (single) person when voting on something. they were grandfathered in
      because lord knows a status symbol as shiny and attractive as an nfl
      franchise could never be allowed to fall into the hands of commoners.
      the horror. no. the power, investment potential, and cachet of such an
      enterprise must be owned by an individual. stupid. greed disguised as
      healthy ambition or just reward for wanting it badly enough.
      sorry. i
      guess i turned this into a treatise on socialism. capitalism is swell-
      it's the super-steroided capitalism we have today that disgusts me and
      has no resemblance to anything this country started out with.
      is the
      Green Bay model so terrible? obviously not. they're doing just fine. and
      they're going NOWHERE. the community will never vote them out of town.
      and the people who spend the most money (comparable to their net worth)
      on the team at least have some kind of stake in it's success other than
      bragging rights after a win. but one single person isn't going to be
      able to say that they own them nor get (by far) the most gargantuan
      return on their investment and that is far too dangerous a prospect to
      replicate.

  • Bear

    so now we have to change the entire training staff every time there's a coaching change? Oh boy! Let's look beyond the age bias and just check on the capabilities of the person.

    • disqus_4Fw8t5kzKY

      I think the team's win/loss record tells you the capabilities. Oh wait...they only look at the bottom line, aka "how much richer did we make Ralph Wilson?" So by those lights, these guys are great, right?

    • Jamie Rozek

      It really helps if you read the article before you post.

  • Ridgewaycynic2013

    "The Buffalo Bills' top executives view their team as a family."

    With the exception of Dave Hojnowski, who they 'disowned' after years of service. 'Family', maybe, if you're the Ewing family...

  • Patrick Connors

    fire Russ! he is the biggest problem

    • Jamie Rozek

      How so?

  • Paul Piluso

    Has to be an extremely frustrating situation for Whaley, Marrone, the players and BILLS fans. It is all too obvious who is running the organization, (need I say it, uhhmm, uughhh, Ralph WiL$ON) and the organization's primary goal is not WINNING football games but rather to amass the family fortune. Yes, I know it is a business and the owner can do as he wishes, but the Team would be even more valuable, if it was a WINNING TEAM, rather than a FARM TEAM!

    • Needanurse

      Perfectly said and many of us BILLS fans agree totally. The Ralph Wil$son "family" does not care about winning or the fans, just about the walk to the bank. They get paid win or lose....it is extremely frustrating and hopefully Coach Marrone and Whaley will not give up on their quest for more control and some front office cleaning....

  • guest

    I guess I need more proof of this happening. I wouldn't doubt it , but need more proof. Maybe this is the reason the Bills are stuck in the state their in!

  • Andrea Urbinato

    Who is in charge?? Get rid of those old timers. We haven't won in forever. Who is handling the Byrd contract??? If they don't sign him we will be the laughingstock AGAIN. Brandon fire those old fougies NOW

    • http://doodie.com Stew Barber

      You should be in charge

  • Buffalo James

    I blame this all on that missed field goal is the Super Bowl.

    • AJ

      However, Scotty Wood runs a hell of a strip club.

  • Miller’s friend.

    who cares. once the old geezer dies the team is gone. i just wish it was before we sunk all the money into the building.

    • Jamie Rozek

      Wow. Ignorant post of the day.

      • Miller’s friend.

        i believe it's the ignorant that drink the bills kool aid and buy into the nonsense at one raunch drive.

        • Harvsbuddy

          Ignorant is calling Mr. Wilson an old geezer and wishing for him to die.
          If it were up to "fans" like you, this team would have been gone years ago and we'd be stuck with the mediocrity that is the Buffalo Sabres (and the third-rate league NHL) as the only game in town.
          You'll be the first one singing their praises when the Bills get to the playoffs this season.
          Your opinion is insignificant and of no importance to real football fans.
          Why don't you just root for the winners every year, and leave us Bills loyalists alone? Your type is what gives real fans a bad name.
          No loyalty. No soul.

          • Bradley-James Minoski

            The NHL isn't 3rd rate, far from it.

            As a Bills fan you shouldn't talking about what is and isn't 3rd fate as the Bills have put a highly forgettable product on the field for well over a decade now. If anything the Sabres are ran with more stability and have more hope for the Bills who outside of a good defense have nothing and can't product a top flight QB since Jim Kelly retired.

            You have no idea what your speaking of man.

    • The 14221

      The expression is "couldn't care less", you moron.

  • Buffalo James

    All kidding aside I'm really getting sick and tired of the stories that surround this team. There is no stability at obd. You better believe that something is about to happen now. Somebody is not happy and you know what is going to hit the fan. It's about time some one speaks up.

  • Rich

    Who knows if Ralph has a functioning mind, hard to imagine him remembering his name. But the bottom line here is Wilson still owns the team and any front office clean out probably won't happen until he is dead....and then it will be the new owner cleaning house as he sneaks the team out WNYs back door.

  • G P

    This is exactly why Ralph Wilson shouldn't be in the Football HOF. Aside from getting lucky with Bill Polian and some small time AFL titles the guy represents football mediocrity.

    • Jamie Rozek

      Yet he helped build the league, so yes, he does deserve to be there.

      • G P

        Sorry....$25 grand investment, his league being absorbed into the NFL and a lifetime losing record doesn't merit a HOF induction. Combine that with holding a community hostage every time the "lease" comes up with threats of moving doesn't add up to a HOF'er. It get's worse when this team leaves after his death.

        • Harvsbuddy

          You obviously have no idea of the role Mr. Wilson has played, not just in keeping a professional team in Buffalo, but in the merger between the AFL and NFL.
          Please, keep your ignorance to yourself.
          You only embarrass yourself to show such ignorance.

          • GoBucs

            Mr. Wilson did a whole lot more for the AFL and the Oakland Raiders than he ever did for Buffalo. Sell the team Ralph. I'm tired of losing. We made him a billionaire. He gave us nothing in return except for heartache. Winning was never important with him. Making cash was. Ask Chuck Knox....

          • Harvsbuddy

            Troll.

          • GoBucs

            lol.....good comeback

  • Buffalo James

    It's like a day time soap. As obd turns.

  • AJ

    Sounds like Brandon needs a talk with Ralph and then put the lifers in their proper place.

    • W.T. Beef

      Ralph Wilson has been dead for quite some time. This is a "Weekend at Bernies" situation. Every now and then the lifers drag the corpse out. This could go on for years before anyone gets suspicious.

  • Buffalo James

    Or maybe as my stomach turns.

  • GoBucs

    Seriously, this is a shock to anyone? Ralphie and his boys put the fun in dysfunctional. Sell the team Ralph. Even when you're "hands off" you're still screwing this team up. There's a reason Wilson, Bidwell, Spanos, Brown, Adams, and Ford have never won a Super Bowl. The reason is Wilson, Bidwell, Spanos, Brown, Adams, and Ford.

  • B662

    Bud CArpenter is a great guy and does not deserve to be lumped in with that group. Always a pro, a staff and team favorite. The trainer is not the call of the coach, it is the medical staff. Of which the Bills have a top notch medical team. Player health and their contracts or who is messaging the media is NOT the same thing.

    • Jeff

      If we have a top training staff how come we lead the league in season-ending injuries every year?

  • http://doodie.com Stew Barber

    Not a surprise, they have been feeding at the trough for years. Clean house, it smells of dysfunction.

  • MarvinGardens

    Since Brandon supposedly took over, I've always wondered where Littman fit in.
    It does seem as though more money is being spent. But, where is the line drawn?

  • W.T. Beef

    Nobody circles the drain like the Buffalo Bills!

    • Miller’s friend.

      they just suck...short and sweet. they could have any 53 players they wanted and the bills still couldn't win more than 5 games.

      • Buffalo James

        Well we won six last year. Last time I did the math that's more than five.

        • Miller’s friend.

          5 or 6 what's the difference. this team is dead from the head down. it will be another crappy year no matter who plays or coaches. save your money and go watch Buffalo State Bengals football.

      • Randy Mccloud

        That's pretty interesting, since they won 6 games last year. Thanks for the input genius.

    • Miller’s friend.

      do you remember the add that featured a man in a row boat inside the toilet tank. that's the bills.

  • GoBucs

    There's a reason the Bills, Cardinals, Lions, Bengals, Oilers/Titans, and Chargers have never won a Super Bowl. The reason is Wilson, Bidwell, Ford, Brown, Adams, and Spanos.

  • former fan

    great article. there is zero hope for this franchise until these old farts are gone. hopefully there are still a couple fans left by then, but knowing this community they still love to support this terrible product that by no means cares the least bit about winning or giving back.

  • Jeff in Chicago

    is it pockets of paranoia or a pervasive "wide right, no goal, it was a lateral" mentality of our denizens who are sure that this team relocates after Wilson dies? Art Modell did it and the NFL recognized that allowing it was such a mistake, they gave Cleveland another team 3 years later. elected officials know that if the team leaves on their watch, they're done. the NFL knows that though Buffalo is a "small market," there are few towns that boast better viewer ratings or a more rabid fan base. Green Bay is smaller and they do just fine and (shock) AREN'T EVEN PRIVATELY OWNED. the NFL is going to have this team sold to someone who keeps the team in Buffalo. period. so "don't be so sure" and "just you watch" all you want, kids- the Bills leaving Buffalo- a life-long pro football town, is a PR migraine that the NFL can and will easily sidestep. easily.

    • Kenny Adamczyk

      Sorry, the only loyalty the league has is to billionaire owners and the monopoly they run. Don't believe that small market teams don't make money if they didn't they would open their books and show how much they lose. They don't lose money they just make less than others. Why isn't the blackout rule lifted? If they can spend my tax dollars for stadium upgrades and improved access roads I should be able to at least watch the sorry excuse of a team. The league relaxed the blackout rule so an owner can broadcast the game locally if 85% of the seats were sold only two teams San Diego and (you guessed it) Wil$on chose not to do it. Sad to say this but as long as he is alive you will continue to have a team where $$$$$ comes first. If Wil$on cared about winning the "old guard" as you call them would have been held responsible along with the cut rate football minds they hire but since the money rolls in all is fine in Wil$sonville.

  • robbobobbo

    God if I had the money I would buy the team and keep them in Buffalo. A true sports city. Diehard fans. My goal would be how many Lombardi trophy's could I fit in a display case at One Bills Drive.
    I would keep the Ralph and modernize it. Maybe do a partial tear down and rebuild, but I would try and buy the stadium from the county and bring in other events throughout the year. Remember those Rock Concerts that sold the Ralph out back in the day? Or how about some extreme motor cross?
    I would even build a dome, but be willing to open it up in December on game days to get the cold weather advantage.
    Most importantly I would do my best to put a winning team on the field.
    Now if I just had the $2-$3 billion to accomplish it....

    • Vidiot

      I know,.... Kickstarter! I'll throw in the first 20$!

      • robbobobbo

        This wouldn't fit into Kickstarter's categories or I would....

  • Miller’s friend.

    the best thing for the city and the state is for the bills to move out. toronto would be perfect. for those that want to go it's close enough and for the rest of us we get rid of a bunch of blow holes.

  • Jeff

    And we wonder why this team sucks and can't seem to make any progress.

  • Chest Rockwell

    No better way to discourage young, talented decision makers than an old guard stifling them from above. The only way this can change is new ownership who can (and will) clean house. No doubt even the old guard themselves would admit they've been around too long and it's way past time to move on. They don't know anything else. Step aside guys, for the sake of yourselves and the organization you love.

    • Kenny Adamczyk

      Love the organization!!! What a joke they are Ralph Wil$ons poop boys and were taught MONEY comes first. Their only loyalty is to Wil$on and his GREED. The man spent $25,000 dollars and turned it into about 895 million yet it's still not enough. Even when they were lucky enough to have Polian who constructed a team that went to 4 super bowls they let him go because he wanted control and to be paid a comparable wage to what other successful GM's made. Now, people, don't bad mouth the team or fail to provide tax dollars for stadium upgrades or I'll move the team you love. The only loyalties for this team is to the money it makes Wil$on. I firmly believe he thinks he can take it with him.

    • W.T. Beef

      Mike Mularkey was a prophet.

      A source close to Mularkey told ESPN.com's John Clayton the primary
      reason for Mularkey's resignation was professional. According to the
      source, Mularkey didn't think the way the Bills were being set up would
      create an environment in which he could be successful.

  • Randy Mccloud

    Look these clowns report to Brandon now. It's up to him to drag them into the 21st century. He supposedly wants to win at all cost...time to prove it.

  • Andrea Urbinato

    what the heck is going on with Byrd???>?

  • Paul Kawalerski

    Now I would agree with the decision making process part of this article. Decisions need to rest with the GM and the coaches. But, correct me if I'm wrong, but how can people continue to blame Ralph for the financial spending with this team. There is a thing called a salary cap. Maybe you have heard of it. Each team can spend up to this amount every year. The same people that complain about the Bills being too cheap were probably the same people who complained about the signing of a cornerstone for the defense in Mario Williams. That didn't seem like a cheap move to me. Talk about losing culture, maybe constant negative articles about this team are one of the biggest contributing factors to perpetuating this "Losing Culture". Do things need to change, of course. But things have been changing and will continue to change for the better.

  • disqus_aX8keHetXc

    Jeffrey C. Littmann has to approve every decision involving more than $1 and that won’t change until Mr. Wilson doesn’t own the Buffalo Bills. If anybody from Russ Brandon on down tells you any different they are lying to you.

  • Vincent Lume

    Was Russ Brandon being completely Truthful, when he claimed to have ultimate authority? If so, makes one wonder, why would he allow this disconnect, and dysfunction to be happening? Now that this has been exposed, be interesting to see how he handles it. If he does nothing, and just let's this blow over, and sweeps it under the rug, then he will have proved to have been nothing more than a pitchman man puppet for the Wilson corporation...

  • Ray Haight

    Not sure Marrone's view of football is so 'fresh.'

  • Don I

    I am getting NUMB with football and Hockey . Can not wait for the Bisons!

  • Realist

    Ask anyone who has had business dealings with the Bills. They are not
    only small market thinkers, they are LIARS. As a whole, only the Cable
    and Cell Phone companies are as contemptuous of their customers as the
    NFL, but the Bills are especially atrocious. In a city where they are
    the only game, they should have more business backing, but they have
    burned a lot of people. It's true the NFL doesn't care one whit about
    the "fans", especially the ones sitting in the seats but in a den of
    vultures, the Bills stink the most.

    • Bradley-James Minoski

      The Bills aren't the only game in town, the Sabres are here as well. Hate to break that one to you.

  • eskimopie77

    THIS IS THE REAL REASONS MARRONE LEFT RIGHT HERE.... THESE ARE THE MEN PAINTING HIM AS GREEDY, THESE ARE THE MEN WHO BADMOUTHED POLIAN , THESE ARE THE MEN SECOND GUESSING AND STOPPING THE MOVES MADE BY FRESH YOUNG THINKERS... THESE ARE THE MEN THAT NEED BUFFALO'S FANS TO BE FURIOUS AND CALLING FOR THEIR JOBS... THEY HAVE HELD THE ORGANIZATION HOSTAGE LONG ENOUGH! ...they have covered their butts.by spreading nasty leaks to the press and the fans of buffalo have bought it...... they have created discord in order to keep the golden goose filling their pockets and the eyes of the public off of them... it's time for bills mafia/ bills nation to wake up... pegula is leaning on these professional liars now... he's far too nice... Marrone walking out is the perfect opportunity for these leeches to be exposed.... DON'T LET THEM GET AWAY WITH IT ANYMORE!!!!!!!!

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About the reporters

Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining NFL.com as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.