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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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.


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.


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.


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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Breaking Down The Bills New Year’s Day Press Conference

I am going to get to the Bills coaching search later tonight but I wanted to share some thoughts on the much bally-hooed press conference at One Bills Drive on New Year’s Day.  One thing is for sure – I’ve never seen such a divide between the national media and the local media regarding a move as I did following the news of the Buffalo Bills re-structuring of their front office.

Russ Brandon took control of the Bills following his press conference yesterday

Russ Brandon took control of the Bills following his press conference yesterday

I can see both sides of the argument.  The local guys have a “I’ll believe it when I see it” mentality when it comes to any significant change within the organization and to be frank the Bills have earned that reputation in the area.  On the flip side the national guys are reacting very positively to the elevation of new Team President Russ Brandon as well as the pending elevation of current assistant GM Doug Whaley.  You can’t really criticize either side.  Russ Brandon is seen by many in the Buffalo area as a mainstay of the failed past decade – he’s been with the Bills for 17 years and had a stint as GM in 2009 before hiring Buddy Nix to do the job full-time.  There is also skepticism regarding how much will actually change.  National reporters see the other side of the coin – they see Brandon as an up-and-coming exec who is hungry to make his mark and is an intelligent and innovative mind.  Whaley has a great reputation around the league as well.  We’ll see which of them turns out to be right in the end.  Here are a few personal takeaways from the PC:

  • Russ Brandon was asked several times if things will be different with Ralph Wilson no longer needing to sign off on his decisions.  He deflected all those questions which could mean one of two things – either he doesn’t plan on changing up too much and didn’t want to admit it or he realizes the mistakes that Ralph was making and plans to change them yet didn’t want to throw the guy under the bus the sentence after he compared him to a father figure.  I’d lean toward the latter because the media gave him a chance to back away from the pointed comments about the lack of direction for the Bills for 13 years but he stood by him.  Then there is this…
  • Brandon announced a state of the art “analytical team” in the front office to try and take advantage of work done by the likes of web sites like Football Outsiders or Cold Hard Football Facts, football sabre-metrics if you will.  Are we to believe that it is coincidence that Brandon rolled this thing out the same day that Ralph handed him the keys to the car?  Questions – Who is running this new team?  Who has the front office added to contribute to this new team?  How will this new team be structured?  The answer is no one knows yet because Russ Brandon just rolled it out yesterday.  It has all the makings of something that Brandon had in his back pocket waiting for his opportunity to take over.  Let’s face it, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that Ralph Wilson is as old school a football guy as it gets.  He’s 94 years old.  He’s been involved in football operations since the advent of the AFL.  Just look at his last 3 personnel hires – Tom Donahoe, Marv Levy, Buddy Nix.  All old school football guys.  An innovative analytical team is the opposite of old-school football.  There will be big changes in the Bills’ personnel department.
  • Buddy Nix will relinquish his role as Bills GM in the near future

    Buddy Nix will relinquish his role as Bills GM in the near future

    Another question that went unanswered was when Buddy Nix will officially turn things over to Doug Whaley.  Nix played southern dumb, which he does well, and basically said eventually and didn’t give much more.  It’s clear that there is a plan in place and it will happen sooner than later.  It seems like it’s information that a head coaching candidate is going to hear before the media does.  Conventional wisdom says that he stays on through the draft which has always been his bread and butter.  I would not be shocked to see him go into semi-retirement and continue to work with the Bills through a few more drafts.

  • Brandon exuded aggressiveness during the PC and he and the football ops team have come out aggressive in their head coach search.  They headed right to Arizona where they will conducted at least 3 interviews before conducting another in Denver this weekend.  I’ll write more on the coaching candidates later tonight.

The future remains to be seen in Buffalo but one thing is certain – change is definitely coming.  People who are expecting the same old Bills will likely be disappointed.  Now let me be clear, I am not necessarily saying that the Bills will be better but it’s pretty clear from where I’m sitting that things are going to be different from here on out at One Bills Drive.

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Ralph Wilson Steps Down As Bills Team President

Ralph Wilson will step down from an active role in the Bills organization

Ralph Wilson will step down from an active role in the Bills organization

For the first time in the history of the Buffalo Bills franchise Ralph Wilson will hold no title other than owner and will not be involved in the decision making process as the franchise turns its eyes to 2013.  It was an inevitable move for the 94-year old owner, new Team President Russ Brandon had represented the Bills at the last few NFL owner meetings, but it is still a monumental step for a guy who was involved in the decision making process as recently as this Monday when the team decided to fire head coach Chan Gailey.

Wilson will go down as one of the better owners in NFL history.  He was instrumental in getting the AFL off the ground in the late 50’s and even helped fund the Raiders and the Patriots to prevent them from going out of business before the AFL took off.  His team went to 4 straight Super Bowls in the 90’s and were the winningest team in the AFC during that decade.  Wilson already has a spot in the NFL Hall Of Fame in Canton, Ohio, elected in 2009.  Things haven’t gone so well over the past decade however.  Wilson drove former coach Mike Mularkey out of town when he continually meddled in the business of Mularkey and former GM Tom Donahoe.  He also made the ill-advised mistake of bringing former Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy back as GM in a move that set the Bills back for several years as a result.

New Bills President Russ Brandon will try to take the Bills in a new direction

New Bills President Russ Brandon will try to take the Bills in a new direction

Russ Brandon has been heavily involved as Bills CEO since 2010 but now he is the man in charge and the buck stops with him.  You can tell that the shackles have come off as Brandon has already made plans to take the Bills in a different direction.  He is making plans to install a new “analytical team” into the front office which is basically the football version of sabre-metrics.  He also has made Assistant GM Doug Whaley the ‘GM-in-waiting” and rumor around Buffalo is that the weight for Whaley could end as early as this April after the draft.  Whaley will also be involved in all of the pending coaching interviews.

The course is clear in Buffalo – there is a new team president and it will be followed by a new General Manager and a new Head Coach.  The head coaching search is already shaping up to be very interesting – I’ll get into that tomorrow.  One thing is for sure is that coaches aren’t running away from the opportunity to coach the Bills which is progress from 3 years ago.  There has been a lot of broken promises and false hope presented to Bills fans over the years and the only way they win the trust back is to win more games but one thing is for certain.  For the first time in the franchise history Ralph Wilson is nothing more than a figurehead.

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Bills brass changing the culture in Buffalo

I wrote back in November during the midst of a 7-game losing streak that the Bills organization desperately needed a culture change.  Since then the Bills have re-signed 6 of their own players, including star wide receiver Stevie Johnson, and signed defensive end Mario Williams who was the biggest free agent on the market.  I’d say that it is far from business as usual this off season at One Bills Drive.  The Bills talked about being aggressive right before the free agent market opened on Tuesday afternoon but not even their staunchest supporters could have predicted that they would successfully woe Williams to Buffalo for the next 6 seasons.

Bills WR Stevie Johnson with CEO Russ Brandon and GM Buddy Nix

Buddy Nix said in his introductory press conference as Bills GM on New Year’s Eve in 2009 that his goal would be to draft and develop players and them sign them long term.  People may have been skeptical after seeing the likes of Nate Clements, Antoine Winfield, Jason Peters, Jabari Greer, Willis McGahee, Peerless Price, Marcellus Wiley, and Sam Cowart, among others, all traded away or allowed to walk in free agency rather than signed to long term contracts.  Nix was true to his word starting last off season when he re-signed versatile safety George Wilson right before the NFL lockout started.  He re-signed Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams to a 6 year deal last August.  He signed starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a 6 year contract extension during the season.  Since the season ended he has re-upped tackle Erik Pears, long snapper Garrison Sanborn, kicker Rian Lindell, wide receiver Stevie Johnson, wide receiver Ruvell Martin, tight end Scott Chandler, and linebacker Kirk Morrison in that order.  Rather than using their assets in free agency and the draft to fill the holes that they had opened by letting players walk, as they had in previous off-seasons, they were left to simply fill in the holes that were already there and add depth.

Bills DE Mario Williams with GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey

The Bills most glaring weakness last season was pass rush.  Sometimes opposing quarterbacks would have 6, 7, 8 seconds to throw the ball in the backfield.  That in turn weakens your secondary who can’t be expected to cover the receivers for that long.  The Bills brass identified this early and were aggressive to correct it.  Their plain was simple – sign Mario Williams, a guy that could not only get to the quarterback on his own but enhance the talent of the players around him.  They did their due diligence and they knew that an interior line that featured Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus would be a strong selling point to Williams.  They knew that Mario was more of a small time guy and he wouldn’t be turned off by the small market nature of the Buffalo area.  But they were still the Buffalo Bills and they had to convince Mario that they were the best fit.  They flew down on a private jet to meet him in North Carolina and bring him back to Buffalo at the very start of the free agency period.  They put the hard sell on him for parts of three days at their facilities in Orchard Park and in the end they closed the deal.  They made the biggest deal in NFL history for a defensive player because they felt that they had to.  Is he the one missing piece?  No but they felt that they brought him close.  Now they will push forward with drafting and trying to re-sign their own guys and hope that it all adds up to a contender.

Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt woes Mario Williams during his visit to Buffalo

For those who still may be skeptical after re-singing their own and landing a big fish there is one more thing to consider.  One of the things the detractors have criticized the Bills for over the years is spending the money to make competent coaching hires.  The Bills attempted to woe former Super Bowl winning head coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Shanahan to Buffalo to no avail and settled for Chan Gailey, a veteran who had coached under Cowher in Pittsburgh.  Gailey surrounded himself with mostly inexperienced coaches in his first season and it looked like more of the same from the Bills front office.  But remember this – if the Bills do turn this thing around here in the near future the biggest transaction may not have come on the day Mario Williams signed, or the day that Stevie Johnson re-signed but on the day that the Bills hired Dave Wannstedt, a Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator, onto the coaching staff.  Wannstedt has been instrumental in recruiting not only Williams but guys like Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison as well.  Now he will instill his championship winning 4-3 defense next season.  The Bills also hired highly sought coaching veteran David Lee to coach the QBs this season.

You can no longer say that the Bills front office, from owner Ralph Wilson to CEO Russ Brandon to GM Buddy Nix and all of his staff, are not committing to win.  They are and they’ve shown it in how they’ve built the team.  Now it’s up to the players on the field to deliver.

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Bills come out aggressive out of the gate

Buddy Nix told Chris Brown of this morning that he had two specific targets in mind when free agency started.  It appears that the two players in question were Texans defensive end Mario Williams and Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem who are both scheduled to be in Buffalo to meet with the Bills brass tonight.

Former Texans DE Mario Williams

Obviously signing Mario Williams would be a huge move for the Bills.  Their biggest weakness last year was their pass rush and signing Mario Williams would put him next to defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus to make a formidable front line.  The Bills front 7 would go from a severe weakness to a great strength.  Former Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is taking over the defense this season.  He’s bringing back a 4-3 base defense which is the defense that Mario Williams excelled in during his first 4 seasons in Houston.  Signing Williams would be huge news in Buffalo and from a marketing standpoint would put them in a good position to sell tickets in the wake of their late season collapse last year.  He’ll also provide a huge boost to a young defense that includes Dareus, Aaron Williams, Kelvin Sheppard, and Jairus Byrd along with veterans such as Williams, Nick Barnett, and George Wilson.

Former Saints WR Robert Meachem

Meachem would be a nice complement to Stevie Johnson and David Nelson in the passing game.  Chan Gailey is looking for a receiver who can stretch the field on the outside and Meachem fits that bill.  Meachem has averaged no less then 14.5 yards per reception in his career in his career.  Meachem’s acquisition would move Donald Jones down the depth chart and create depth that was lacking last season at the wide receiver position.  Obviously sitting Meachem down next to Mario Williams at dinner would be a hell of a negotiating ploy for getting a deal done for Meachem.

Clearly Buddy Nix and Russ Brandon weren’t lying when they said they would be aggressive and resources would not be an issue this free agency period.  They feel that they’re close and that they can leapfrog New York and Miami this year with a big off-season and are looking to make a big splash early.

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