Bills fire coach Rex Ryan ahead of last game of season

Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan walks toward the field as his team warms up before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Rex Ryan’s inability to back up his boasts of building a bully — particularly on defense — in Buffalo led to the Bills firing their high-profile coach one game short of completing his second full season.

Terry Pegula, who made Ryan’s hiring his first big splash as owner, was the person who informed Ryan of his dismissal Tuesday. The decision came three days after a 34-31 overtime loss to Miami which eliminated Buffalo (7-8) from contention, and extended the NFL’s longest active playoff drought to 17 years.

“We mutually agreed that that the time to part ways is now,” Pegula said in a statement released by the team. “These decisions are never easy.”

Pegula then noted his wife in saying: “Kim and I and our entire Bills organization share in the same disappointment and frustration as our fans, but we remain committed to our goal of bringing a championship to western New York.”

Ryan had three years remaining on his contract.

General manager Doug Whaley’s job appears secure after being put in charge of the Bills coaching search, the team’s third in four years. Buffalo is also moving on to its eighth coach since the playoff drought began during Wade Phillips’ final year as coach in 2000.

Ryan replaced Doug Marrone, who opted out of his contract following a 9-7 finish in 2014, and three months after the Pegulas purchased the Bills from the estate of Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson.

Assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn will coach the Bills in their season finale at the New York Jets (4-11) on Sunday. Lynn is also considered a candidate to replace Ryan permanently because of his familiarity with an offense that is closing in on leading the NFL in rushing for a second consecutive season.

Lynn, a long-time Ryan assistant, was promoted to coordinator in September, when Ryan fired Greg Roman after an 0-2 start.

The 54-year-old Ryan appeared emotionally drained during a 20-minute news conference on Monday.

He called the loss to Miami his most painful as a Bills coach, and the second-most painful in his 20 NFL seasons as a coach or assistant. Ryan also second-guessed some of the decisions he made during the game, including punting from his own 41 with a little over four minutes left in overtime. He said he hoped the loss wouldn’t become his defining moment in Buffalo.

“But if it is, it’s something I’ve got to live with,” he said.

Bills defensive lineman Leger Douzable voiced his displeasure with Ryan’s firing on his Twitter account.

“I’m tired of people talking about the 17 year drought REX was here for 2 of those years hard to build a winner if coach changes every two years,” Douzable wrote in a series of posts.

Ryan finished with a 15-16 record with Buffalo and is 61-66 overall, including a six-year tenure with the New York Jets. And it was Ryan’s hiring by the Bills in January 2015 that electrified a fan base because of his larger-than-life persona and reputation as a defensive specialist.

Ryan stirred the fans even more during his inaugural news conference by vowing to build the Bills into a bully.

His promises eventually fell short, particularly on defense.

Last year, the Bills finished 19th in yards allowed — the worst ranking for Ryan in his 11 years as a head coach or coordinator. Buffalo also managed just 21 sacks, a franchise-low for a 16-game season, and after the defense led the NFL with 54 the previous season under coordinator Jim Schwartz.

The defense underperformed once again this year, despite Ryan’s offseason vows that it’ll be improved.

Buffalo has allowed 30 or more points five times and allowed more than 400 yards offense four times, both matching last year’s total. Opposing running backs also enjoyed three of the top six outings against Buffalo in team history.

Miami’s Jay Ajayi had 206 yards rushing on Saturday after a 214-yard outing against Buffalo in October. And Le’Veon Bell had 236 yards rushing — the most against Buffalo in franchise history — in Pittsburgh’s 27-20 win at Buffalo on Dec. 11.

The Bills also fired Ryan’s twin brother, Rob Ryan, from his position as an assistant head coach with the responsibility to oversee defense.

This has been a difficult year for the Ryans, who mourned the death of their father, Buddy Ryan, in June.

Buffalo’s drought is tied for the fifth-longest in league history, and the longest since the New Orleans Saints failed to make the playoffs during their first 20 NFL seasons (1967-86).

Another major decision facing the next head coach is quarterback.

Starter Tyrod Taylor’s future is not secure despite signing a lucrative five-year extension and restructuring the final season of his contract in August. The Bills can opt out of the deal after this season.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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