ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Bills coach Rex Ryan spent Thursday on the defensive, dodging turmoil from near and far.
First, he dealt with an Associated Press report that the Bills plan to release former all-pro defense end Mario Williams this offseason, freeing $12.9 million of salary cap space.
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“I don’t know where it’s coming from or whatever,” Ryan said of the report, without denying it.
“I’m not going to get into speculating on this player’s going to be here, not here, how they fit in, or whatever. Those discussions, all those type of discussions, will be better served after this game.”
The next criticism of Ryan came from an unlikely source: the former chairman of the East Carolina University Alumni Association.
Earlier this week, stressing he simply wanted to win a football game, Ryan said, “I don’t care if we’re playing East Carolina, you want to get a win, period. There’s no question about it.”
That apparently irked Carl Davis, the former chairman, who lashed out at Ryan in a statement to WNCN-TV in North Carolina, saying Ryan’s father, former NFL coach Buddy Ryan, had also taken a shot at ECU.
“I find it ironic that you chose to follow your father’s path with the ‘no East Carolina’s’ comment,” the letter opened. “May be you should share the records and the facts with him.
“First of all, your father’s record as a head coach in eight seasons is .500. I can see why you are proud of him since your winning percentage is .482 in seven years. [Actually it isn’t that good; it’s .477.] I can see that you have proudly followed in your father’s footsteps with no conference championships in a combined 15 seasons.”
The letter went on to state the only time Ryan faced ECU, as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator in 1997, Ryan’s team lost.
“Maybe the coaches in the NFC should be saying ‘there are no Bills or no Ryans in the NFC,’” Davis ended.
Ryan had a good laugh at this letter and assured he didn’t mean to target ECU personally.
“First off, I didn’t mean to offend East Carolina by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “As you guys know, I’ve used the Toronto Argonauts before, I’ve used Orchard Park, Summit High School, all the high schools, whoever it was. Oklahoma, Southwest, I’ve used them all, so I certainly didn’t mean anything by it.”
But Rex, that loss to East Carolina . . .
“I’m still scarred by it,” he deadpanned. “You know what? I remember that. I think we won nine or 10 games that year but we lost to East Carolina in a driving rain storm.”
The Bearcats actually entered that game 7-3, but the point remained.
Brushing off the Mario Williams situation, however, will be more difficult. In all likelihood, Sunday will be Williams’ final game with the Bills.
No one could have imagined that sentence when Ryan was hired last January. Williams was coming off a career-high 14.5 sacks under coach Doug Marrone and the Bills “Cold Front” defensive line was supposed to be the biggest strength of the team.
But like most else in Rex’s first year in Buffalo, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan.
Williams has routinely criticized Ryan’s defensive scheme while having the worst statistical season of his career, with just four sacks, 13 tackles and four assists in 14 games. He didn’t speak to reporters Thursday after the story broke.
The Bills signed Williams to a $100 million contract in 2012, a record for money given to a defensive player. Williams failed to meet the expectations of the deal in his first two years, recording decent sack totals while the defensive struggled. He had his best season in 2014, with his sacks total good for fourth in team history.
But playing in Ryan’s defense this year has not sat well with Williams, who scoffed at the notion of taking a pay cut earlier this month. All Ryan would say about Williams specifically Thursday is that he’ll dress against the Jets. Try to contain the excitement.