What Is Terry Pegula’s Plan For The Buffalo Bills?

Just a few short months ago the Buffalo Bills’ fan base was over the moon.  They had a new owner and finally had long term stability in Western New York.  The team was moving in the right direction with a winning attitude and they were in the playoff hunt the latest that they had been in years.  For the first time since 1996 the Bills never fell under .500 during the entire season.  While a late season loss to the Oakland Raiders in the black hole knocked them out of playoff contention they finished with their best record in a decade.  It seemed like the Bills were heading for an optimistic off-season in which the Pegula regime was ready to turn the corner of the most down-trodden franchise in the NFL over the past 20 years.

Bills owner Terry Pegula

Bills owner Terry Pegula

It’s been 5 days since the Bills’ season ended on a high note with their first ever win at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.  In those five days their starting quarterback has abruptly called it quits, their head coach walked out the door with $4 million of Pegula’s money due to a clause in his contract that was written by another ownership group and the man that Pegula had wanted to be his “football czar” decided that he was all set after the former all had happened.  Now you can surely question whether or not Kyle Orton was the correct long term answer at quarterback or Doug Marrone was the long term answer at head coach.  Was Bill Polian really the right guy to lead football operations for the Bills over two decades after he was fired from that job the first time?  I’m not sure that the answer to all of the above is yes but I can tell you that’s it’s quite clear right now that Terry Pegula’s initial plan involved all 3 of those men.  Now he will move forward with none of them.

So what’s plan B?  I certainly hope that Pegula has one because he is going to have to act fast on it.  The team has already missed out on interviewing one coordinator, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, since they were only able to start scheduling interviews with a two-day window to see those coaches that were on their respective playoff byes.  Further, if you’ve lost your top pick to head football operations who is going to head the search now?  All signs point to GM Doug Whaley who, until today, seemed like he was on the outs in Buffalo.  It really is a weird situation and what makes it sad is that all the momentum that the franchise had picked up in the last few months has seemingly all gone up in smoke.

Bills GM Doug Whaley

Bills GM Doug Whaley

Now the question is how do they get back on track?  I’m not sure if it’s that Pegula doesn’t think too highly of Whaley or he just trusted other people more but right now he’s his best option.  He’s young, smart and he’s already laid the ground work on the current roster.  I’ll get into who was more to blame between the two Dougs for some personnel failures at another time but I think anyone who doesn’t think that Whaley has put together a fine roster of players in the less than 2 years on the job is extremely short-sighted.  Even if Pegula was angling to replace Whaley the right thing to do now is to tell him to let bygones be bygones and to go find him a coach that can get the 53 guys on his roster into the playoffs.  Give him a chance with his own guy this time around.

The apple cart has already been upset but this Bills’ situation is screaming for some type of continuity.  Doug Whaley is the last best hope for that and Pegula would be wise to give him the keys now and let him lose the training wheels on his own.

@ErikVenskus

EJ Manuel And Other Draft Day 1 Thoughts

The Buffalo Bills surprised the football world last night when they selected EJ Manuel with the 16th pick in the NFL draft, making him the first and only quarterback drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.  While Manuel wasn’t the #1 quarterback on most people’s draft boards (although he was on top guru Mike Mayock’s board) it does make a lot more sense when you step back and think about it.

New Bills QB EJ Manuel

New Bills QB EJ Manuel

For starters Manuel is the most comparable to the big quarterbacks taken in the past few drafts.  Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Colin Kapernick, Russell Wilson, even Andrew Luck are more comparable to Manuel than to Nassib or Barkley.  There were also arm strength questions with Barkley and Nassib and that’s is an issue for a quarterback who needs to play home games in Buffalo in November and December and, God-willing, January.  Manuel has good arm strength.  He also has great accuracy on short, quick routes which is what you’ll likely see a lot of from the Bills this coming season.  Also I think some of the shock from the national media was born out of sheer laziness.  Earlier in the week I heard Mel kiper Jr. cite Ryan Nassib as the most over-valued potential first round pick.  Nassib of course wasn’t picked in the first round but it was almost as if Kiper was resigned to the fact that Doug Marrone was simply going to stay put and take his college QB.  Not that the media needs to spend a lot of time thinking about what the Bills are going to do but the spitefulness of being so far off is a bit silly.

Manuel built a solid resume at Florida State

Manuel built a solid resume at Florida State

As for my own opinion of the Manuel pick I am cautiously optimistic.  Over the course of watching the NCAA over the past few seasons I have to say that Manuel was the most impressive guy to me in my very unprofessional opinion from watching NCAA football games over the last few years.  I like that he played at a big program down in FLA (just like the Bills’ last franchise QB) and I like that he’s 4-0 in bowl games.  After seeing all of the interviews and press conferences since the pick you’ve also got to be impressed with how this kid handles himself.  He seems like he should have a good handle on the locker room and the huddle.

As for other picks that I liked in the first round – I liked the Steelers grabbing Jarvis Jones at 17, The Colts taking German pass rusher Bjorn Werner at 23 and the Ravens replacing Ed Reed with Matt Elam at #32.  Then of course there was another one of those grand larceny trades made by Bill Belichick and the Pats.  Tonight it will be interesting to see where some of the big names leftover go.  As far as the Bills go I would look for WR, MLB and TE.

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What Mike Pettine Will Bring To The Bills Defense

The Bills officially named former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to the same title on their own staff today.  New head coach Doug Marrone was aggressive in recruiting Pettine to leave the Jets for the Bills and Pettine will bring an aggressive defense along with him to Western New York.  Pettine spent 4 years under Rex Ryan in New York and before that worked on the staff in Baltimore.  He told the Bills media today that his defense won’t necessarily be married to one base scheme and they will move it around and disguise it as he sees fit.  As usually happens when there is a coaching staff change there will be roster changes.  Here’s a look at what you may be able to expect from Pettine’s defense in Buffalo next year:

  • Expect to see Williams with his hand down most of the time

    Expect to see Williams with his hand down most of the time

    There’s been a lot of talk about where Mario Williams will fit in to this new defense.  My guess is exactly where he did in the old one.  Expect to see Mario playing with his hand on the ground for most of his snaps.  Sure he will get up and move around once in a while but he did that last year as well (at least after his wrist was healthy).  Mario Williams will not be a stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker.  He’s just not that type of player.  He’ll do fine where he is.

  • That being said I’ve heard the rumors about Mike DeVito jumping from the Jets to the Bills but I just don’t see where he fits.  Between Mario, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Alex Carrington I’m not sure where DeVito gets his snaps along that defensive front.  He’s a solid player and would probably be better served somewhere where he’d get more playing time.
  • Calvin Pace, on the other hand, would be a great addition to the defense.  He is getting a bit long in the tooth but the Bills defense is filled with young, inexperienced linebackers and a guy like Pace could be valuable with his experience in Pettine’s defense.
  • Please, Mike, no Bart Scott.  Thank you.
  • Gilmore will be expected to be lockdown in Pettine's defense

    Gilmore will be expected to be lockdown in Pettine’s defense

    Stephon Gilmore better start watching some tape of Darelle Revis and the Jets defense because I think he will be thrust in that role right away in Pettine’s Buffalo D.  Despite being a rookie the #10 pick in last year’s draft was far and away the Bills’ most consistent CB last year and gained some valuable experience shadowing guys like Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne during the season.  He’ll be leaned on heavily by Pettine to lock down one side of the field for the Bills defense.

  • It may be wise for the Bills to try and re-sign Leodis McKelvin and see if Pettine can resurrect his career much the way he and Rex Ryan did for Antonio Cromartie in New York.
  • The Bills should make re-signing Jairus Byrd their #1 priority in the off-season.  Byrd has turned himself into an aggressive safety over the past 2 seasons and one would think he’d thrive in an attacking type of defense.  I’d always liked to see what kind of player Byrd would be if he blitzed more and he could get that opportunity in the new Bills D.

It should be an interesting change next season from the passive Wannstedt defense to an attacking style that Pettine prefers.  The Bills certainly have had their defensive challenges over the past 3 seasons and Pettine will have a tall task on his hands to right the ship.  He’s got the credentials to do so and Marrone is banking on him doing exactly just that.  This was Marrone’s most important hire in his first year and the spotlight will be on Pettine.  I’m guessing by the speed in which he ran out of Rex Ryan’s shadow that may be exactly what he’s looking for.

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Bills Continue Youth Movement, Hire 33-Year Old Nathaniel Hackett As Offensive Coordinator

The Bills have a 48-year old coach, a 45-year old team president, a 40-year old soon-to-be general manager and now they have a 33-year old offensive coordinator in Nathaniel Hackett.  Hackett served under new coach Doug Marrone in the same capacity in Syracuse for the past 4 seasons.  Prior to that he was an offensive quality control coach for the Bills under former head coach Dick Jauron.  He is also the son of longtime NFL coach Paul Hackett who coached with Marrone when they were both with the Jets under Herman Edwards.

Hackett and Cuse QB Ryan Nassib

Hackett and Cuse QB Ryan Nassib

Hackett had success at Syracuse with a pro style offense in his first 3 years but the team opened it up more last season, implementing more of a spread offense.  It’s said that he used some of the old K-Gun offense that he learned during his time in Buffalo from former Bills QBs Jim Kelly and Alex Van Pelt.  He also used some of the current Sean Payton system which he learned from Marrone.  Expect to see a similar offense in Buffalo presumably with a heavy emphasis on the running game with CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson.  I’d also expect to see both running backs down the field more whereas Chan Gailey generally used them primarily for screens this past season in the passing game.

One concern at this point is that the Bills may be telegraphing the fact that they feel that Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib could slot right into their starting QB position with his familiarity with this coaching staff.  Obviously you don’t want the whole league knowing who you are going to take with your pick but nevertheless Nassib still has work to do before securing himself as the #8 pick in the draft.

As far as the hiring of Hackett goes…what the hell right?  It’s been a boring, redundant 13 years in Buffalo.  A little outside-the-box thinking can’t be any worse.

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Bills Moving Quickly To Fill Defensive Coordinator Position

Russ Brandon and company continue to be aggressive as they have already requested permission to speak with 2 current NFL defensive coordinators only hours after new head coach Doug Marrone was introduced at One Bills Drive.  Marrone said that he was looking for coordinators on both sides of the ball with a lot of pro experience.  Not only are they courting guys with experience but they are courting actual current defensive coordinators who might be looking for a change of scenery.

Jets DC Mike Pettine

Jets DC Mike Pettine

Mike Pettine, current defensive coordinator of the New York Jets, has worked on Rex Ryan’s staff since he was DC in Baltimore and has been coordinator for Ryan’s Jets since he took over in 2009.  Pettine’s defensive units finished in the top 5 in the NFL in total defense in each of his first 3 seasons in New York before falling to #8 in 2012.  Pettine uses the Marvin Lewis system that Rex Ryan brought to New York from Baltimore.  It is an attacking defense which is the type of defense that Doug Marrone prefers.  The only question is whether the Bills would permanently move back to a 3-4 base after shifting over to the 4-3 just before last season.  And if so how would Mario Williams feel about that.  Pettine turned down a contract extension with the Jets earlier this year so it’s not surprising that he might be ready to fly the coup.  Rex Ryan’s shadow is a large one to work under (no pun intended) and Pettine could get more exposure running Marrone’s defense.  Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that the Jets granted the Bills permission to speak to Pettine.

Mel Tucker, current Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator, has been in Jacksonville since 2009.  He spent the past season working under former Bills head coach Mike Mularkey.  Prior to that he worked under Jack Del Rio and was elevated to interim head coach when Del Rio was fired last November.  The Jaguars had the #4 defense in the league in 2011 but fell all the way down to #30 last season.  I’m not sure why the large drop off from ’11 to ’12 but the biggest difference was the new coach and perhaps Mularkey wanted Tucker to run a different style of defense.  What I do know is that Jack Del Rio likes to run an attacking style of defense and if Tucker brought that kind of mentality to the Bills he could be a fit.  Again Mularkey’s job is in limbo since the new Jaguars GM will ultimately decide his fate so Tucker might jump at the chance for some stability in a new Marrone regime.

The Bills said they were going to be aggressive in finding a new head coach and they were, filling the position in just a week.  They said that they were going to be aggressive in finding a defensive coordinator and there is no reason at this point to not take them at their word.  It seems like the criteria for the DC position is similar to that of the HC position.  They are looking for a young guy who has a lot of experience and a reputation for being an aggressive play-caller.

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Good Primer For Who Marrone Might Look To Add To Staff In Buffalo

Matt Warren of buffalorumblings.com has a good primer of Doug Marrone’s coaching tree which includes a lot of names from Marrone’s past, including fellow HC candidate Lovie Smith.  It’s a very in-depth look at Marrone’s past coaching history as well.  Link is below:

Doug Marrone Coaching Tree: Bills Coach Has Ties To Many

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Bills Hire Syracuse Head Coach Doug Marrone

The Bills have made a splash in the head coaching carousel by hiring much sought after Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone (per Adam Schefter of ESPN).  Marrone had interviews with the Bills, Browns, Eagles, and Chargers and was on the top of the list of both the Browns and Eagles who were also meeting with Oregon coach Chip Kelly.  Marrone is a 48-year old native of Bronx, NY and has coached the Syracuse football team for the past 4 seasons.  He had a 25-25 record but had turned around a program that was 10-37 in the 3 years prior.  Before coaching Syracuse he spent 3 seasons as Sean Payton’s offensive coordinator in New Orleans.

New Bills HC Doug Marrone

New Bills HC Doug Marrone

Bills team president Russ Brandon talked about being an innovative, progressive, forward-thinking organization.  The Marrone hire is proof that Brandon is backing up what he said at his press conference.  They could have played it safe with an experienced guy like Ken Whisenhunt or Lovie Smith but they went with Marrone who runs an innovative offense.  The coordinator hires will be important for the Bills.  There are already rumors that Marrone may try to pry current Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael away from New Orleans.  With Sean Payton coming back he will resume play-calling duties which means Carmichael would have a better opportunity in Buffalo.

Of interest is the fact that senior quarterback Ryan Nassib is one of the top rated QBs in the draft this year.  It will interesting to see if the Bills draft Nassib and have him implement his college offense, much like the Dolphins did last year when they hired former Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman and drafted his QB Ryan Tannehill.

I like the aggressive and forward thinking move by the Bills but will reserve judgement until I see the staff on whether or not I think Marrone is a good hire.

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Breaking Down the Bills’ Head Coaching Candidates

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

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

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

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.

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