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Head Coaching Candidates
Who is worthy of becoming the next Bills' head coach?
by Joe Chenelly
November 25, 2003

I am sure there are a few of you out there, but I don’t know anyone who thinks Gregg Williams should be the head coach for the 2004-2005 season.

Las Vegas even agrees. They’ve posted the following odd on whether Williams will be patrolling Buffalo’s sidelines next year: Yes—2/5 and No—7/4.

With his release seemingly inescapable, I find myself asking an obvious question: Who will be the 13th head coach of the Buffalo Bills?

First off, I am quite confident Williams will remain with the team through the end of this miserable waste of an autumn. Coaches are rarely dismissed in the middle of the season. Then again, the Bills did it two years in a row — Kay Stephenson was fired four games into the 1985 campaign and his replacement, Hank Bullough, lasted nine games into 1986 before being replaced by Marv Levy. Hmm, Mr. Mary Levy, wouldn’t it be nice if the smartest man in football left the studio and returned to One Bills Drive? A guy can dream…

To keep this as realistic as possible, let’s examine within Buffalo’s own ranks first. First stop, former Bengals coach Dick LeBeau. Williams created a special assistant head coach spot for LeBeau, who turned 67 in September. He had a dismal 12-33 record as the Bengals coach before his 2002 firing. However, he was the defensive coordinator on two Super Bowl teams—the 1988 Bengals and '95 Steelers.

I for one am sick of defensive coordinators who cannot handle being the big cheese. Look at Williams or good ole’ Wade Phillips to understand my disgust.

Of course, I am not saying the Bills’ current defensive boss, Jerry Gray, would drive the team further into the ground, but let’s handle this situation the way it needs to be. The 2003 roster was compiled with guys who have been there, done that. Sure, it might not have worked so far, but it is a good strategy. Let’s get a coach with the same background.

Okay, so how about that other coordinator, uh, Kevin…never mind. I don’t want you to log off right now. Obviously Gilbride should look into sharing the moving truck rental fees with Williams. Where is Buddy Ryan when you need him? Remember the Ryan-Gilbride sideline incident? The “offensive genius,” as he was called back then, blew a game with some risky play calling for Houston, who already had the game wrapped up thanks to a Ryan-led defense. Buddy “Give me a doughnut” Ryan walked over and punched Gilbride right in the kisser. I wonder how seriously Jerry Gray has considered doing the same this year.

Les Steckel, the Bills current running backs coach, was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee during the Titan’s Super Bowl run in 1999. During their 13-3 season he struck a near-perfect balance and listened to head coach Jeff Fisher—neither of which Gilbride seems to be capable of. He spent one year as the head coach on Minnesota in 1984. He is most likely has no shot at the top job, but could be a candidate to stay on and replace Gilbride. Unfortunately, he will probably follow the trash out the door.

Now that we know there is nothing brewing within, we must look to the outside. Several other teams are going to give their head coaches the heave-ho. Let’s hope the Bills don’t pick one of them, unless it is in a coordinator capacity only. That list includes Marty Schottenheimer, Dan Reeves, Jim Fassel and Bill Callahan. That is all I have to say about that.

There is a long list of former head coaches looking to drop “former” from their title. It is no secret Dennis Green, Norv Turner, George Seifert, Ray Rhodes and Tom Coughlin all once again want a team to call their own.

Green has been off the sidelines for a while, but he has stayed in touch with the game by working for NFL headquarters. He is a good coach, who just couldn’t handle Randy Moss, but he is looking for team who will hand over total control. Sorry, he won’t get that in Buffalo.

Turner? I hope not. The Packers must have booted him after just one season for a reason. Plus, he isn’t exactly tearing it up in Miami. Once a fish, always a fish.

Is Seifert a good coach or did he simply inherit a San Francisco team loaded with Super Bowl caliber talent? I think the latter is most accurate. He didn’t do much of anything with the Panthers. In his last year with them, they were 1-15. No thanks!

Rhodes, who was a prime head coach candidate at the beginning of the season, is faltering lately as the Seahawk’s defensive coordinator. His unit lost a game to the lowly Redskins when he hardly blitzed at all despite the fact that Washington has a sieve of an offiensive line, a young QB and no running game. Then he pulled back the reins back on his talented guys allowing Baltimore to erase a huge deficit and eventually win. He’ll be lucky to keep his job, let alone get a promotion.

Coughlin is a hardnosed guy who did very well getting Jacksonville going as an expansion team. A Syracuse University alumnus, he made his coaching reputation at rival Boston College, where he coached honorary lifetime-Bill Doug Flutie to the Heisman Trophy. Coughlin has been unemployed since he lost control of the Jaguars and was asked to leave after last season. Some team will hire his next year, and I think the Bills would be lucky to be that team. He has been offered and turned down the Giants’ position before. If Jim Fassel gets run out of New Jersey as expected, the Giants may make another offer.

Ted Cottrell is another great defensive mind with the ability to get along with his players. He probably remembers the Bills handed the defense and later the team to Wade “Who Needs a Headset” Phillips instead of him. What goes around comes around. He will be a head coach eventually.

As for former head coaches who are gone and not likely to come back, rumors are surfacing that Jimmy Johnson could return to the NFL. Okay, I really can’t stand Mr. Helmet Hair, but he is thought to be a good coach, so I will humor the two Bills fans who like this guy. Well, I don’t really know if there are even two such fans, but I’m doing it. Johnson said he would never coach again—of course, Bill Parcells said the same thing. Johnson is already affiliated with the Chargers as a part-time scout, and they also will be hunting this offseason. Plus, he likes warm weather and a place to dock his home/boat. I guess there is always Lake Erie.

The upcoming (but not soon enough) offseason is being billed as an exceptional year to grab a head coach from the collegiate ranks. I don’t really like this path either, but hey, let’s take a look. I think a couple of these guys will be quite successful in the NFL, just not right away.

LSU coach Nick Saban and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz both are considered NFL worthy. Saban, who is getting calls left and right, will likely go to Chicago and try to untangle that mess. Ferentz, last year’s Big 10 Coach of the Year, is poised to earn at least $750,000 in bonuses this year, but he soon could be looking for Steve Spurrier money. He just missed out on taking over the Jaguars last year.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops will make the jump too, but not necessarily this year. California coach Jeff Tedford is a coaching star in the making. But if he goes, he is liable to drive right up the road to take over either of the Bay Area’s pro teams.

Here are just a couple other names I’d like to throw out to increase my odds of being able to say in the spring, “See, I had it right way back in November!” Denver Bronco’s offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator George O'Leary both may be leading teams by this time next year, and either could attend an interview at Orchard Park. Quarterback Jake Plummer recently said he came to Denver because he wanted to work with Kubiak. It means a lot when the guys who play this game respect you to that point. I am sure O’Leary will be a head coach next year, although, probably at the college level.

With Gilbride’s firing even more certain than Williams’, who should fans expect to be calling the offensive plays next year? Well, that is totally dependent on who the head coach is. Les Steckel could do the job, but logic and history make it clear—whoever takes over will bring in his own crew. That could even mean a new defensive coaching staff.

I guess the meaning of this column is this: While Tom Donahoe’s choice will be difficult and maybe even painful; the Bills have a tremendous opportunity forthcoming. A chance to find the guy who can bring it all together. Just imagine what a Bill Parcells’ could do with this year’s team. Now Tom just has to find the next Tuna.

I hate to point this out, but two the of coaches Donahoe passed on for Williams are now doing very well. John Fox of Carolina is doing wonders down there and is a prime candidate for coach of the year. Then look at Marvin Lewis. He took LeBeau’s pathetic Bungles club and in half a season turned them into a respectable up-and-coming team.

I really, really hope Donahoe can do a better job this time around.

So this Thanksgiving, we can happily sit down at the table, pull up a pile of chicken wings, a bowl of blue cheese and a beer…what, you don’t eat Buffalo wings at your house on Thanksgiving…and give thanks for another Bills loss, as it moved Williams one step closer to the interstate out of Buffalo.

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