This year’s Bills head coaching search seems to be a lot more fluid compared to the search 4 years ago. They only conducted 4 interviews in total last time and one was a sham interview that Mike Shanahan used to leverage a higher price from Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. This time around they’ve already got 5 interviews lined up only 2 days after firing former coach Gailey and more rumored as well. Russ Brandon went to work quickly after his introductory press conference as Bills Team President yesterday, catching a plane to Arizona along with GM Buddy Nix, assistant GM Doug Whaley, and VP Jim Overdorf to start conducting interviews. Here is a primer of who’s interviewed, who will interview, and who’s on the radar.
HAVE ALREADY INTERVIEWED
Former Cardinals HC Ken Whisenhunt
Former Cardinals HC Ken Whisenhunt – Whisenhunt has a pretty good resume. He’s won a Super Bowl as the offensive coordinator of the Steelers and then lost one against his former team as the head coach of the Cardinals. Whisenhunt has ties to Buffalo’s GM-in-waiting in Doug Whaley from their time together in Pittsburgh. The concern with Whisenhunt is that in the last 3 seasons his record in AZ was only 18-30 which is just 2 games better than the recently fired Chan Gailey. He’s also struggled to groom a young QB after he lost veteran Kurt Warner to retirement. On the positive side he could presumably bring in good experienced assistants and implement a similar system to the Steelers. There is said to be strong mutual interest between the two parties but the Bills have set up several interviews behind him so they’ll have to go back to him if he’s the guy. This front office has been high on experience so he has that going for him.
Cardinals DC Ray Horton – Horton is a veteran of the Cardinals and Steelers staffs. He is a candidate for the Cardinals head coaching job but may be running behind Andy Reid for that spot. Horton is well-regarded as an up-and-coming assistant. His young Arizona Cardinals defense was the catalyst for the team’s 4-1 start before the bottom fell out. As a matter of fact Horton and his entire defensive staff were retained after Whisenhunt and his offensive staff was let go on Monday. Horton will give you what Whisenhunt will as far as that Pittsburgh philosophy goes but you get a fresh face in Horton. The only drawback to Horton is that he has been a career 3-4 coach and that would mean moving from the 3-4 to the 4-3 back to the 3-4 in a 4-year span.
SCHEDULED TO INTERVIEW
Oregon HC Chip Kelly
Oregon HC Chip Kelly – Kelly is considered the “holy grail” of potential head coaches this off-season. He was rumored for months to be interested in a job in the NFL and has already set up three interviews for after his bowl game tomorrow night in Arizona. The Bills will meet up with him on Friday. When Brandon talked about being a forward thinking, progressive organization Kelly was the first name that came to mind. Kelly would be the big splash that the Bills desperately seek to become relevant. Kelly would also represent great risk, as would any college coach taking his first crack at the pros. Running back C.J. Spiller would be a superstar in a Chip Kelly offense. The Bills will face stiff competition from Philadelphia and Cleveland for his services.
Broncos OC Mike McCoy – McCoy was a hot name last season after he brought the Tim Tebow-led Broncos offense to the divisional round of the playoffs. He’s done it again this season albeit he doesn’t get as much credit with Peyton Manning as the QB this time around. He’s still considered one of the premiere young offensive coordinators in the league and with Josh McDaniels staying in New England he is getting lots of looks. The main concern with McCoy would be his ability to put together an experienced veteran coaching staff which is a must for the Bills.
Syracuse HC Doug Marrone
Syracuse HC Doug Marrone – Marrone is one of those guys with success as a coordinator in the NFL and then as a head coach in college. It could be the perfect mix for a team looking for someone with a lot of experience but not someone who would be considered a retread. He worked with Sean Payton in New Orleans and helped turn around a downtrodden Syracuse program. The success that he had in Western New York could attract him to the job but, again, the Bills will face competition for him from the Eagles and Browns as well.
ON THE RADAR
Former Bears HC Lovie Smith – Smith is said to be interested in the Bills head coaching job and it sounds like he may get an interview. Smith is exactly what the Bills have been looking for in a head coach – a guy with a track record of success and lots of experience. He finished 18 games over .500 in his 8 seasons in Chicago. He’d also be able to put a good coaching staff together although his Achilles heel at the end of his Chicago tenure was the lack of a productive offensive coordinator. He also missed the playoffs in 5 of the last 6 years. Still he has a wealth of experience and would probably love a chance to coach the front 4 of the Bills defense.
Former Cardinals OL Coach Russ Grimm – Grimm was rumored to be on the Bills list in Arizona but it doesn’t sound like an interview has been set up yet. Grimm turned down the Bills 3 years ago and his stock hasn’t exactly risen since then. It would be surprising to see Grimm get the job ahead of either Whisenhunt or Horton but it could be conceivable that he would be part of a staff if one of them was hired.
Bengals DB Coach Hue Jackson – Jackson actually did a hell of a job last season with the Raiders, going 8-8 with a dismal team. He did however give up the farm for Carson Palmer. He will be hampered by the fact that he won’t be able to interview while the Bengals are in the playoffs.
There have been other names such as Redskins DC Jim Haslett but I’d be shocked if the Bills went too much further from the above list. There are certainly some good names to choose from and if Russ Brandon wants to make a splash he can go all in for Kelly. I think Smith or Whisenhunt end up in the roll if Brandon can’t woo Kelly. It will still be a thorough process. I don’t think they have a coach by the end of the weekend but I don’t see it going to far into next week either.
Follow me on Twitter