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The Bills finished the 2009 season on a high note, handing the Colts just their second loss of the campaign in blowout fashion, 30-7. But now it's time to get down to business.
While Sunday's victory was nice, Buffalo's search for a head coach now becomes the organization's top priority. The team informed its entire coaching staff Monday that they are free to look elsewhere for work, although new general manager Buddy Nix still will formally interview interim coach Perry Fewell for the permanent job. Then, things will get interesting.
Bills owner Ralph Wilson and CEO Russ Brandon reportedly held a secret meeting with Bill Cowher last week, checking on Cowher's interest level in coaching the team. Although talks were productive, no deal was agreed upon. The Bills previously met with Mike Shanahan about the job, but he is set to become the next head coach of the Redskins.
According to various reports, the Bills will look at Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Eagles defensive coordiantor Sean McDermott, former Ravens head coach Brian Billick and former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis for their head-coaching job, among others. Nix is expected to begin that process in the coming days.
The PFW spin
After a decade of disappointment, the Bills' selection of their next head coach is an extremely important decision for both the organization and its fans. The people of Buffalo have been very supportive of this franchise, but they won't keep showing up at Ralph Wilson Stadium if the team does not show a concerted effort to improve.
Whether or not the fans agree with the seemingly safe choice of in-house scout Nix as GM, as least Buffalo got their man in place in a timely fashion. Being around when the regular season ends will ensure that Nix doesn't fall behind in his quest for a coach, as he certainly won't be the only GM hunting for a new head man. And while Nix will at least have the courtesy to interview Perry Fewell, the chances of Fewell having the interim tag removed from his title are slim, as Nix emphasized in his press conference that he wants someone with lots of experience running the team.
If it's a proven coach the Bills want, Cowher would seem to top their list. In 15 seasons guiding the Steelers, he had a .623 winning percentage, led them to nine division titles and captured a Super Bowl trophy in the 2005 campaign. He's still fairly young at age 52, and his blue-collar mentality would seem to be a perfect fit for a city like Buffalo. Wilson obviously covets him, and now it's a matter of Cowher seeing what kind of other offers come his way. If he doesn't mind going through a bad year or two as the club revamps its roster, he'd be hired immediately.
As for other experienced coaches on the market, the Bills already have been rebuffed by the likes of Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden, and while they certainly wouldn't mind a guy such as Marty Schottenheimer running the operation, he has not given any indication that he'd like to return to the sideline, preferring life as a media member right now. Reports also have Buffalo interviewing Billick this week. Billick won a Super Bowl in Baltimore and could be the offensive guru that gets the Bills' sputtering offense off the ground. Other former head coaches who have been reported as possible candidates include Jim Fassel and Jim Haslett, who both coached in the UFL this fall, although neither of them would be viewed as a franchise-changing hire.
If Nix can't land a guy who previously has been a head coach, he might opt to talk to men he spent time with during his tenure in San Diego. Rivera has helped the Bolts' defense make major strides in 2009 and has been on many teams' coaching radars for a while. And Brian Schottenheimer, Marty's son, worked with Nix before moving to the Jets, where he has designed game plans to fit his personnel and has had tremendous success on the ground. Both would be gambles as first-time head coaches but have proven to be top-notch assistants, meaning their phones should be ringing this offseason.
Two other names PFW is hearing the Bills could be interested in both worked with Buffalo VP of college scouting Tom Modrak during his time with the Eagles. Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was a DBs coach with Philly in Modrak's tenure and has run premier defenses in Minnesota for the past three seasons. He has been in the running for head-coaching jobs before and could at least get an interview from Nix. Another possibility is Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who has been on the staff there since 1998 and took over as coordinator this season following the death of Jim Johnson. McDermott is only 35 years old, but he mentored under Johnson for years and led an impressive Philly "D" in '09, making him an attractive candidate to consider.
These are the names that have been most widely discussed, but other candidates are likely to emerge this week. Regardless, Wilson and Nix have their work cut out for them in finding the right man for the job. With a good hire, the Bills could be a playoff contender within a couple years. However, another wrong choice could set the franchise back even further and lead to another lost decade.