Buffalo Dreaming: Local Color for the Draft and Beyond

John HowellAnalyst IApril 24, 2009

DETROIT - DECEMBER 05: Head coach Turner Gill of the Buffalo Bulls talks with Drew Willy #16 while playing the Ball State Cardinals in the MAC Championship game on December 5, 2008 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

As Draft Day approaches, there is one player the Buffalo Bills should be sure they acquire, even though it may seem counter-intuitive.

Despite the fact that they appear to be set at quarterback, except perhaps for a seasoned veteran to back up Trent Edwards, the Bills should make whatever moves are necessary to ensure they can obtain local hero Drew Willy.

Willy led the University at Buffalo Bulls to their first Bowl appearance in school history this past season in cardiac fashion reminiscent of John Elway or the old Cleveland Browns when they were known as the "Cardiac Kids."

On the road to the International Bowl, Willy beat Temple as time expired with a Hail Mary pass, commanded a 14-point comeback against Army, beat Akron in four OTs, rallied from a 20-point deficit to beat Bowling Green in two overtimes, and then stunned unbeaten and 12th ranked Ball State 42-24 in the MAC Championship game.

With a resume like that, and local sentiment behind it, the Bills would be foolish not to find a way to secure Willy for their roster. He may not be on anyone's short list for draft stock, but he has the intangibles that play especially well in Buffalo. Anyone remember Doug Flutie?

Picking Willy would hearken back to one of the best counter-intuitive moves ever made by a Buffalo team: when the NBA's Braves (now LA Clippers—see my article on the Cavaliers carrying the mantle for the Braves at Bleacher Report) chose Randy Smith.

As a three-sport standout at Division II Buffalo State, Smith would have considered basketball his third sport after track (high jumper) and soccer. The Braves drafted him as a PR stunt and were as surprised as anyone when Smith not only made the roster but was named the MVP of the NBA All-Star game.

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I truly believe Willy would be the NFL version of Randy Smith if he plays in Buffalo. If not, who knows. Would Randy Smith have even played in the NBA if Buffalo hadn't taken him?

But drafting Willy is just half of the Buffalo Dreaming I refer to in the headline. It is the act of setting the table for act two, which is something that may be unlikely but not undesirable in the fans' eyes: the replacement of head coach Dick Jauron.

Jauron is a proven loser and should be replaced with Willy's coach and mentor, Turner Gill. Gill is an undaunted winner.

When Gill arrived as head coach at the University at Buffalo ("UB" to the locals) he was and remains to be one of only a handful of African-American head coaches in Division I college football. He was passed over for more prestigious jobs, perhaps because of his minority status. But the big schools' losses made for Buffalo's gain.

In just three years, Gill took a team that had won just 10 games in seven seasons in Division I-A and made the into the come-from-behind miracle team, earning their first conference championship and bowl berth.

What he has done at Buffalo is even more impressive when you realize that he has done all of this with psychology, strategy, and discipline.  When Gill arrived he had no real talent on the team and only now are his recruiting efforts beginning to have an impact. 

How did he do it? It may sound corny, but he did it on faith. His first proclamation when he arrived at UB was a re-branding the school's initials. "UB now means 'You Believe,'" Gill exclaimed. 

He meant it. His belief was contagious. And he went on from there. "Believe in things not yet seen," he preached to his players. "Never quit!" "Compete to the End." "Continue the swagger!"

With or without Gill in the organization, the Buffalo Bills need Drew Willy. But Turner Gill gets significant credit for the quarterback Willy has become.

If he had the opportunity to wear the Bills cap and jacket he would bring his infectious faith and drill his rigorous discipline into a Bills team that has the capability of going all the way with smarter coaching, greater discipline, and better motivation.

Would someone see to it that Ralph Wilson sees this?