Buffalo owner: Team could no longer wait on GM
Updated: Tuesday December 19, 2000 9:21 PM
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- John Butler, as responsible as almost anyone for building the Buffalo team that went to four consecutive Super Bowls, was fired as the Bills' general manager Tuesday.
Team owner Ralph Wilson said he fired Butler because he couldn't wait any longer for Butler to decide whether he would be staying in Buffalo. Butler, whose contract expires after the season, has been courted by several teams, notably San Diego.
An animated Wilson said he had no choice and that the two had as many as six contract negotiations since training camp July without any progress.
"I could never get anything definitive from him," Wilson said. "I had a very uneasy feeling. Maybe he didn't want to be with the Bills."
Butler, who had gone to Montgomery, Ala., to scout the Blue-Gray game, was not immediately available for comment. He was reported to be en route back to Buffalo.
Wilson said he offered to double Butler's salary, which reportedly is in the $600,000-$700,000 range, believed to be among the bottom third in the NFL. Wilson said he arrived at his new offer by averaging the top eight GM salaries in the NFL. He was then willing to go even higher after Butler turned him down Friday.
The last straw, Wilson said, came when the two last discussed the contract Monday.
"I said, generally speaking, 'John, if you can't give me an answer that you're going to be the general manager of the Bills, now, not in the future, not after the last game, then I'm going to have to look elsewhere,'" Wilson said he told Butler. "He was just nonchalant about it and left."
Butler, Buffalo's general manager since 1993, broke into the NFL as a scout with the Chargers in 1985 before being hired as Buffalo's director of college scouting in 1987.
He was involved in drafting such players as Thurman Thomas, Don Beebe, Phil Hansen and many of the Super Bowl Bills, as well as Marcellus Wiley and Sam Cowart from the current team. He is considered especially adept at finding small-college players like Beebe (Chadron State) and Hansen (North Dakota State), as well as Wiley, an Ivy Leaguer from Columbia.
Such drafting kept the Bills competitive even as the Super Bowl stars aged. The team made the playoffs in five of Butler's seasons as general manager.
Dwight Adams, promoted to vice president of player personnel last summer, and A.J. Smith, director of pro personnel, are both under contract with the Bills and considered early candidates for Butler's job.
The Bills have struggled this year and missed the playoffs after a season that included a public feud between quarterbacks Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie. The Bills were also hamstrung by the NFL salary cap, which forced 16 players to be cut last offseason, including Thomas, Bruce Smith and Andre Reed.
Wilson said he was happy with the job Butler did in Buffalo, but not with the negotiations.
The Bills players were informed of Butler's dismissal just before practice.
"As a person, it's just like losing a teammate," said Wiley, who has replaced Smith at defensive end and become just the fifth Bill to get more than 10 sacks in a season. "He comes out to practices, he jokes with us, we slap-boxed in the elevator before. He won. He's just a great guy."
Wiley, who becomes a free agent at the end of this season, didn't know if Butler's departure would affect his negotiations with the team.
"I'm a Buffalo Bill. This is where my desires are," Wiley said. "He didn't take the city with him, he didn't take my team with him. He didn't take all the coaches with him. ... It's not something that discourages me. We haven't got that process rolling, so I don't know."