When you’re the boss with the bucks the buck stops with you

Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, observed in a private gathering, seems a humble, down-to-earth guy. Yet he made his millions in the oil and gas industry — a pretty macho business.

Now he has a crisis on his hands, unrelated to fracking or a well blowout. He liked the team so much he bought it and now he has to really own it.

The Sabres underperformed most of the season, a trait this franchise exemplified for at least the last decade. They didn’t just lose, teams pushed them around. The fans are restless. The media want’s GM Darcy Regier‘s head, and maybe coach Lindy Ruff‘s as well.


How’s a nice guy owner to end this crisis? The decisions belong to Pegula and his advisors. The reasoning should come from hockey people who can evaluate talent. But in terms of a crisis, we wonder how prepared Pegula is.

Asked in the midst of the Sabres’ slump earlier in the season what he needed to do to improve the team, he demurred about injuries and bad luck — a whining litany you might expect from a harried GM, not the owner. While it’s a rare pleasure to see a sports team owner who isn’t a raving egotist, you’d hope for a little “the buck stops here,” thinking.

The Sabres personify the saying attributed to Einstein that insanity defined is when you keep doing the same things and expect a different result. The Sabres are a small team with some skilled players who obviously cannot compete in today’s NHL, finishing as they did in ninth place in their division. The crisis emerges because this is not new.

Ruff (left) deployed the team Regier (right) built. If the playoffs are the performance minimum, they fell short. If the Stanley Cup is truly the goal, Pegula has work to do.

In terms of crisis management, he must be factual, quick and transparent. Fans expect the owner to see the world in stark terms. In professional sports there is no middle ground, no character building.

Pegula shouldn’t wait or deliberate overly long. Treat his team like he would his natural gas business if it failed to meet goals. If he chooses to hire new team leaders, don’t drag that out either. The temptation will be to locate worthy successors before firing the incumbents. Fire first — that statement has value alone — and hire later.

Reputation in this case is about credibility. Will Pegula act in ways that give him and the team credibility with its fan base, and its competitors? Will they take him seriously? Will he find a general manager who will find a coach who will run the team far more successfully?

Easy questions, but finding the correct answers takes work. Will Pegula work at it? The crisis will continue until results change.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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