Thursday Afternoon Quarterbacking with Gregg Easterbrook

(WECK 1230) — What do you do when you find yourself in a heinous technical spot, an unknown bad phone connection and one of the more brilliant minds ever to come out of Buffalo on the horn?

You transcribe your interview with The New Republic’s senior editor and part-time ESPN columnist Gregg Easterbrook. Here’s how it went:

Nick Mendola: Gregg, a pleasure to have you on “The Late Nick Mendola” program. Certainly, my listeners want to know your thoughts on the Bills’ problems, but let’s start with the ones in your hometown.

Gregg Easterbook: “A lot of people talk about the manufacturing jobs, but the manufacturing jobs would’ve been lost regardless of who’s manufacturing what because jobs were lost broadly across the country and even in China in a period of social history when factory employment is going down everywhere as a rise of productivity. The second thing you’ve seen is Buffalo is different from other places like Pittsburgh and Cleveland where you’ve seen reliable and even gentrification. That hasn’t come to Buffalo. Big companies should want to come to Buffalo (even though) it snows.”

NM: “Well I wonder if the companies don’t look around and see the potential in Buffalo as a place but also a government that can’t even pass a simple budget… a group of people who can’t get out of their own way?”

GE: “I’ve put this very question to corporate leader types, ‘Why don’t you want to come to Buffalo?’ and I’ve heard the same reply every time and it’s one word that word is ‘corruption.’ They think the local Buffalo government is corrupt and recent history seems to support that. Not so much the Erie County government, but the City government. There’s a lot of bad things you complain about big business, but generally they like to work in a clean and open government and Buffalo doesn’t really offer that, does it?”

NM: “From one place with problems to a team that’s had problems, the Buffalo Bills. I wonder if you monitor your home team closer than others?”

GE: “I was a kid during the Bills glory days of AFL Championships. I was in the Rockpile for one of those two games. One was in San Diego and one was in Buffalo. Of course, I followed the careers of Jack Kemp, Wray Carlton and all those guys and by weird coincidence became friends with Jack Kemp. In the  very early 1990s, I died a thousand deaths like all true sons of Buffalo did. You’ve just gotta be realistic about the last 10 years. We, the Bills, haven’t had good players. We haven’t had good coaches. We’ve had a succession of coaches who barely even seem awake on the sideline. They seem bored by the fact that they were required to attend the game and they sure don’t seem to care whether the team wins or not. I find it very impressive that the Buffalo fan base stays faithful.”

NM: One of the things I’ve seen at OTAs and maybe this is a promising thing for you, is that Chan Gailey at least personality-wise seems different. Donte Whitner today at OTAs admitted that under Dick Jauron they played soft. I know folks wanted a Mike Shanahan or a Bill Cowher/Marty Schottenheimer-type, but what do you make of Chan Gailey?”

GE: “He’s certainly a step up from the last three coaches. You can see him, he’s conscious. You’ve gotta hand him that! He’s awake. That’s a big step up from Dick Jauron. He’s got a very good professional reputation. He kinda had bad luck in Dallas, but most of the places he’s gone he’s performed well. He seems to want to win games and to be engaged.”

“It would’ve been great to have Shanahan, or certainly Bill Cowher would’ve been exciting. Shanahan’s a guy who’s won Super Bowls, but he’s only been a winner when he’s had John Elway. If you give me John Elway, I could win games in the NFL. We’ll see. Gailey’s really professional, so cross your fingers. You’ve gotta be realistic with the roster. They’ve drafted so poorly in the last few years that you really have to rebuild. Who do we have on our team that would’ve started for either team in this year’s Super Bowl between New Orleans and Indianapolis?”

NM: “Not sure.”

GE: “The roster’s just weak. It’s going to take several years to recover from the drafting of the previous administration.”

NM: “Is that why you think Buddy Nix went with C.J. Spiller? They could’ve gotten perhaps more immediately better with a tackle or offensive tackle, but Spiller looks to be someone with the same talent as a LaDanian Tomlinson, one of the best running backs of our most recent era.”

GE:  “Maybe. When you’ve got a weak roster, you can draft the most special player. They believe he’s a special player, and let’s hope they’re right! I’m not so much worried about them drafting Spiller as I’m worried about them doing nothing at all about the offensive line. If you watched the Bills at all last year, the line was terrible. It’s been terrible for many years. The previous drafts… what were they thinking when they used the No. 11 pick on Aaron Maybin? We may never know the answer to that. The current guys can’t undo that. For Spiller, if he really is like a LaDanian Tomlinson or a Chris Johnson, you would draft him regardless of what you need.”

(At this point we talked about small market differences between hockey and football. Easterbrook didn’t see any issues with market size being a strict problem, but then raised a touchy issue for any Bills fan: relocation).

GE: “Mr. Wilson’s a wonderful guy. He’s a person I admire a lot and have even gotten to know slightly, but you must be realistic. When Mr. Wilson crosses the river, the team is likely to leave. Maybe that New York State Senator delegation can stop that. I know they’ve tried, but the likelihood is whenever Mr. Wilson passes, the team is likely to depart soon after.”

NM: “Thanks for spending some time with us here on ‘The Late Nick Mendola’ program. Lastly, what is something the average Buffalonian like myself can do the most greatly affect change in the fortunes of the area?”

GE: “I think what Buffalo really needs is a new government. I think if Buffalo can show the world that we’ve got the rascals out of City Hall and we have a competently-run City government that would be huge to Buffalo’s reputation. On a practical basis, you’re in New York State  where you have a very high profile Attorney General, and the State Attorney General is almost exclusively concerned with New York City because that’s where the media is.”

“Man, if you could get the next State Attorney General to care about cleaning up Buffalo, to make that his cause, that’s gotta be the first step to civic progress to the City. I think there are smart and civic-minded people in the City of Buffalo. They are obviously outnumbered, but they are there. I think if they can start a clean government movement, I think that would be the most important thing.”

Gregg Easterbrook’s new book is called “Sonic Boom! Globalization at Mach Speed.” Get all the details on Gregg and his work here.


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