Last week began with a feel-good scene of Rex Ryan and Jim Kelly sharing laughs at Kelly's charity golf tournament, and ended with the Hall of Fame quarterback and Buffalo Bills franchise icon making a frank declaration that the gregarious coach's job is on the line this season -- and that Ryan knows it.
Kelly's statement to "The Jim Rome Show" contradicted what Ryan told TheMMQB.com last month, when the Bills coach responded "I don't think so" to the question of whether he could be fired if the Bills don't make the playoffs this season.
So who should Bills fans believe on the issue of Ryan's job security?
It doesn't really matter.
As much as Kelly and Ryan want to speculate on what could happen if the Bills' postseason drought -- already the longest among the four major North American sports leagues -- extends to 17 seasons, it is unlikely that either knows the intentions of owner Terry Pegula or how his thinking on the matter will evolve between now and Jan. 1, the final day of the Bills' upcoming regular season.
This much is for sure: Pegula won't offer much commentary on Ryan's future. Odds are, Bills fans won't get even the slightest hint from Pegula about how he feels about his coach. Known to those around him as a swift and decisive decision-maker who prefers secrecy over transparency, the Bills' owner declined interview requests at the NFL's annual league meeting in March and has not extensively spoken to reporters since Jan. 14, 2015, the day Ryan was introduced as Bills coach.
The only indication from Pegula about where he stands on Ryan came in the form of a three-sentence, emailed statement on Dec. 30 of last season, prior to Buffalo's regular-season finale.
"[Co-owner] Kim [Pegula], [team president] Russ [Brandon] and I look forward to working and collaborating with [general manager] Doug Whaley and Rex Ryan in forming a winning future for the organization," he said in the statement. "Our management team and coaching staff are very capable and work well together. This stable foundation is necessary to achieve long-term success in the NFL."
Ryan is already under contract through the 2019 season, while Whaley received a contract extension two weeks later. Yet the Pegulas' measure to lock up Whaley shouldn't be taken as an ironclad sign that the current regime in Buffalo is safe beyond this season.
Most in Buffalo know the history of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres since Pegula took control of the team in 2011, but for those outside of the region who don't follow hockey, the names Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier probably don't register. In the context of Ryan and Whaley's futures, those two figures are important.
Ruff, the Sabres' coach since 1997, had his contract extended two months after Pegula bought the Sabres in 2011. Regier, the team's general manager, received an extension of his own in January 2013. The Sabres finished last in their division that season, and in June 2013, Pegula backed Regier by rhetorically asking, "When you look at the history, even with the Sabres, what's he done wrong?"
Apparently Regier did something wrong. Six weeks into the ensuing season, Pegula fired Regier on Nov. 13, 2013. The Sabres' owner quickly hired former team captain Pat LaFontaine as president of hockey operations, attempting to lay the foundation to turn around what would soon become the NHL's worst team. LaFontaine abruptly resigned his post after less than four months on the job.
The turnover with the Sabres -- who fired Nolan last year -- extends beyond the halls of the hockey operation. Pegula brought aboard Ted Black, a former Pittsburgh Penguins executive, as team president after Black helped in the process of purchasing the club. Last July, more than three months after the end of the Sabres' season, Pegula and Black "mutually parted ways" as Brandon took over business control of the Sabres.
Some of the changes with Buffalo's hockey team were predictable, but others caught Sabres fans and followers by surprise. The timing of some of the decisions, especially Regier's early-season ousting, wasn't conventional.
For those reasons, attempting to predict what will happen to Ryan or Whaley during this season, immediately after it or even into next year is futile. As plugged in as Kelly might be with the organization, he isn't the one making the call about Ryan. As confident as Ryan might be about his job security, his 19 years of NFL coaching experience should have taught him that little should be taken for granted.
And Pegula? He spent $1.4 billion on the Bills in part for the right to make the calls about who coaches his team and runs his football operation. How he feels about Rex Ryan on June 13 could change by June 14, again by Oct. 14 and again by Dec. 14. There is a better chance Kyle Orton will come out of retirement to quarterback the Bills this season than for Pegula to step in front of a microphone or camera and offer an opinion on Ryan's future, even amid the criss-crossing talk and temperature-taking of Ryan's seat as coach.
That's Pegula's prerogative. No matter what Kelly or Ryan say, all the multi-billionaire must do is pick up his phone and press a few buttons to end Ryan's tenure as Bills coach.
Until that happens -- or doesn't -- believe whomever you want.