Fred Smerlas calls to defend Bills trainer Bud Carpenter: 'That guy helps you'
From what Fred Smerlas witnessed during his time with the Buffalo Bills, trainer Bud Carpenter deserved a Nobel Prize.
"Bud Carpenter helped a guy with one brain cell walk around for three years," Smerlas said, referring to his frequent foil, former Bills coach Hank Bullough.
"Hank should be a protected species. How many people can talk, breathe and eat with one brain cell? He was a subhuman, but Bud kept him functional."
Smerlas began today's phone call with a wisecrack, as is his custom for pretty much every conversation. But he called for a serious reason: to defend Carpenter after reading my story from a couple weeks ago in The Buffalo News.
I reported some members of the Bills' coaching staff want to update the medical staff. Carpenter has been with the Bills for 30 years.
It's common for new coaches to crave personnel changes when trying to refresh a team's culture. The Bills haven't been to the playoffs 14 straight seasons, the NFL's longest active drought.
Smerlas, who repeatedly stressed he's never called a reporter after reading an article, felt compelled to defend Carpenter and to declare that Bills coach Doug Marrone should not make a switch.
"He deserves credit for what he's done and who he is," Smerlas, a Bills Wall of Famer, said of Carpenter. "I played with sprained ankles, twisted elbows, busted fingers and I came back game after game after game.
"I was put together with glue, but I was able to play because I followed Bud's tutelage."
Smerlas was a captain who started at defensive tackle every game he played for the Bills from 1980 through 1989.
"To be a great coach," Smerlas said, "you have to be able to come in and assess who you have, who's for you and against you, who makes you better and who makes you worse.
"Bud believes in the Buffalo Bills. That guy helps you. He's on your side. He's about getting kids better and making that team better."
Several times this offseason, Marrone and Bills General Manager Doug Whaley have emphasized the need for key players to stay healthy.
Although the Bills suffered only one significant season-ending injury with defensive lineman Alex Carrington last year, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel had three knee injuries and receiver Stevie Johnson suffered from back, hip, groin and hamstring problems.
Marrone declared after Manuel's latest knee injury the quarterback didn't need surgery based on the medical staff's report and that Manuel would start the season finale against the New England Patriots. Manuel didn't start. Manuel had surgery.
There've been other discrepancies. The Bills were fined in 2012 for not listing Mario Williams' wrist on injury reports because the team didn't think he was sufficiently hurt. Williams had wrist surgery during the bye week.
Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd claimed he followed the training staff's direction to rehab his plantar fasciitis over last offseason, but Byrd missed five games because of it.
"A coach needs to be able to run his team," Smerlas said, "and if he doesn't want Bud Carpenter because he wants to replace him, that's up to the coach.
"Personally, if I'm a coach, you don't get rid of all your pieces just because. You get rid of the [pot-stirrers] that pull the team away from me in the locker room, and I build a strong nucleus with quality guys. It keeps your locker room tight. That includes your trainer and your equipment guy."
Smerlas praised Carpenter's loyalty to the Bills over the past three decades.
"He doesn't talk behind anybody's back, and you'll find a lot of guys do," Smerlas said. "He's not cutting anybody's throat, whether it was Bruce Smith bitching or me being a mental case, never. He's about the Buffalo Bills.
"I agree that coaches need to be able to appoint guys who will help them, but I think Bud is a guy who helps them."