Spinning on the Coaching Carousel

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Speculation; the Buffalo equivalent of playoff football. Watching highlights on this, the 20-year anniversary of the greatest comeback on NFL history, I’m struck by the fact that there are plays I’m seeing for the first time. The game was blacked out on local TV. Allow that to sink in for a moment fans, we had become so desensitized to winning football at that point that Bills fans couldn’t be bothered to go the game. As a 12-year old, I surely thought that Buffalo’s annual inclusion in the postseason would last forever; but like Blockbuster Video and a functioning Congress, those thoughts are so far away right now that I can’t be sure they were ever real. For the past 13 years, since an illegal forward pass eliminated the Bills from their last playoff appearance, what we have had to occupy our time from January-August (October-August some years) was speculation. The draft, free agency, stadium upgrades; and in a good year, a coaching search. Man, do I love a good coaching search.

Last time around the hiring process was a circus. Repeated attempts to land marquee talent led to repeated instances of Bills fans being slapped down by rejection, and ultimately ended with the gut-punch of the Chan Gailey hiring. The illness that is my offseason Bills optimism turned that into a smart hire eventually, but the harsh lens of reality quickly proved otherwise. These aren’t your (slightly) older brother’s Buffalo Bills, however, and while we’re still not be able to lure Bill Cowher out of his chair; the roster, front-office structure and semi-long term stability make this a much more attractive hire. While we may not have the pick of the litter, we certainly won’t end up with Jim Haslett. Please, please don’t let us end up with Jim Haslett (As an aside, Jim Haslett owes my uncle $2 from an unpaid newspaper delivery in 1981, the man cannot be trusted).

Enough of the history lesson, what follows is a brief analysis of the serious coaching candidates the Bills have confirmed interviews with. Feel free to disagree, so long as you are not suggesting we hire Jim Haslett.

Chip Kelly:

Chip Kelly (AP Photo)
Chip Kelly (AP Photo)

The Oregon Ducks Head Coach is the hot name among coaching prospects this offseason. After nearly leaving Eugene for the bright lights of Tampa Bay last year, he seems poised to take an NFL job this time around. Kelly has already been tied to Buffalo, Cleveland, and Philadelphia job openings.

For: Kelly operates an innovative offense that produces yardage and points in bunches. Concerns over whether or not the system is NFL-ready can be allayed by the influence he’s had on The Patriots offense this year. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have expertly adapted the volume-offense and have shown that at least some of Kelly’s concepts are transferable. Chip Kelly is also known to be unconventional, aggressive, and a creative play-caller, which appeals to Bills fans after watching Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey tiptoe though losing seasons.

Against: Full disclosure, I hate Chip Kelly as an NFL coach. I’m always wary of guys who leave plum jobs for greener pastures, and I don’t look forward to watching Kelly “Bobby Petrino” us when he leaves to be the head coach at Texas in 2 years. That’s not the reason why he is wrong for the Bills though. To me this is a mirror of Steve Spurrier to the Redskins and I don’t want any part of it. Just because concepts carry over doesn’t mean the coach does and we don’t need someone who feels that their way is so much cleverer than anyone else’s. The last thing we need to see in Buffalo is the Shane Matthews – Danny Wuerffel debacle revisited in the form of Dennis Dixon and Jeremiah Masoli. Add in the fact that he runs Mike D’antoni’s defense and the total package is not one I want to see in Western New York.

Conclusion: Not much to worry about here, as he is reportedly not interested in Buffalo anyway.

Ken Whisenhunt:

Ken Whisenhunt (Photo by Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE)
Ken Whisenhunt (Photo by Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE)

The former Cardinals HC and Steelers offensive coordinator would have been Bills fans’ dream candidate last time around, but a lot has changed for him in the last three seasons. He’s won multiple division titles, is respected enough around the league to attract top assistants, has a career 4-2 record in the postseason, and came within half of a toe of winning the Super Bowl. Whisenhunt and the Bills are said to have mutual interest, but that has so far been panned pretty heavy by fans in the Twitterverse.

For: Whisenhunt has shown he is a capable head coach, adept at delegating to coordinators like Todd Haley and Ray Horton to produce a solid outcome. He has the aforementioned playoff success, and has solid experience developing a young Ben Roethlisberger during his tenure as OC of the Steelers. For some reason people like to point out that he is nothing without future Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner, but those same people seem to forget that Warner had been tossed aside by both the Rams and Giants at that point and was backing up Matt Leinart in Arizona. Whisenhunt shares at least half of the credit for moving back to Warner and the success that followed.

Against: The last three years have not been good, I’m not going to turn this into a statistical analysis, but suffice to say it’s been a debacle in the desert. There has been a parade of awful QB play from a list that includes Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, Kevin Kolb and Brian Hoyer, among others. A promising start to this season turned into a losing streak for the ages, and it’s hard to imagine that a team without a QB would want to hire a coach who can’t find one.

Conclusion: Look, finding a QB is the single greatest challenge and most important task facing the Bills this offseason, but that is a challenge facing any coach they hire. It seems to me that all the knocks on Ken Whisenhunt are that he can’t win without a QB, I’ve got news for you, friends: None of the coaches we hire are going to win if we don’t find a QB. I’m not as down on Whiz as most, I think he is a very capable coach and currently the most likely to get the job.

Lovie Smith:

Lovie Smith (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn, USA TODAY Sports)
Lovie Smith (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn, USA TODAY Sports)

I’ve lived in the Chicago area for 12 years so I feel a bit more qualified to comment on Lovie than the average Bills fan. I even had the pleasure of meeting the man a time or two back in my Outback Steakhouse days; he sure does love that pink lemonade. I need to state up front that I consider Lovie’s firing to be a colossal mistake on Chicago’s part and he is my #1 choice for the Buffalo job. Fans out here remind me a little of those Bills fans that didn’t buy tickets for the comeback game, it’s easy to become spoiled with consistent quality and that’s what happened here. You’d think that no one in Chicago remembers what it was liked to be coached by Dick Jauron or Dave Wannstedt. Having had the experience more recently, Bills fans can tell you it ain’t pretty. Be careful what you wish for Chicago, coaches that win 81 games and 3 division titles in 9 years don’t come around every decade.

For: Even more so than Whisenhunt, Lovie Smith has the respect of his peers and the ability to attract top assistants. Smith’s staff in Chicago boasted 3 former NFL head coaches in 2012 and the prospect of him bringing someone like Rod Marinelli or Ron Rivera with him to coach the defense in Buffalo has great appeal. In addition, Lovie’s 4-3 scheme is a perfect fit for our roster. Buffalo’s talented front line is a mirror image of the Bears front 4 from the Super Bowl run, when Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson wiped out blockers on the inside leaving Brian Urlacher free to rise to superstar status. Ahem… I’m looking at you, Manti Te’o.

Against: As good as his choices for Defensive coordinator have been, his choices on the offensive side of the ball have been just as bad. Mike Tice furthered the notion that maybe he is the one who is nothing without Kurt Warner, while Mike Tice, argued by some (me) as the dumbest man in football, has been Mike Tice. Interestingly enough, the presence of Jay Cutler has done very little to improve the overall record of the team, suggesting that Smith is at his best relying on his defense to win ball games.

Conclusion: I’m a huge fan of Lovie and think he’d be a perfect fit in Buffalo. I actually consider our talent on the defensive side of the ball to be better in a lot of ways to fit Lovie’s scheme, and a team playing aggressive D would be very popular in Buffalo. I have a sinking feeling that we won’t take the hard run at him that I think we should, so if Lovie is to end up in Buffalo he is going to have to be the aggressor.

Ray Horton:

Ray Horton (Photo lifted from Buffalobills.com)
Ray Horton (Photo lifted from Buffalobills.com)

Horton is someone who I wasn’t familiar with coming into this offseason, but have seen a ton of info about since the coaching carousel got started this past Monday. Viewed by many, himself included, to be a favorite for the Cardinals job he is nonetheless an interesting candidate for the Bills.

For: Horton has coached on some very successful defensive units and is a disciple of legendary Pittsburgh Defensive Coordinator Dick Lebeau. His Cardinals D propped up a weak offense and kept the team relevant until Kevin Kolb’s injury ended their season. It’s the height of condescension to call someone “well-spoken,” but I will say that this guy really seems like he gets it. I was particularly impressed by comments he made about running the team as a CEO and delegating down to coordinators, which would hopefully allow him to employ a 4-3 defense in Buffalo.

Against: He runs a 3-4 right now in Arizona. I can’t overstate how much of a problem this is for me. Buffalo’s personnel are in no way suited for that scheme and a 3-4 transition at this point is the kind of thing that will burn away any goodwill management has garnered by restructuring the front office.

Conclusion: Not gonna happen. I think he will be an effective head coach… in Arizona.

Mike McCoy:

Mike McCoy (Photo lifted from Philly.com)
Mike McCoy (Photo lifted from Philly.com)

It’s a credit to how far the Bills have come that their candidates are all such hot names. McCoy is also coveted by several teams this year and it would be a bit of a coup for Buffalo to land him. His claim to fame is versatility, having turd-polished Tim Tebow into a playoff victory and completely adapted his offense to fit Peyton Manning this year.

For: Despite the playoff appearance, Tebow was statistically awful last year, which is fine because if McCoy and Tebow are ever reunited in Buffalo I will be moving to Canada. What should be more interesting to Bills fans than his work with Tebow or Manning is his work with Kyle Orton. McCoy quietly tutored Orton into a top 10 passer, which is significant to Bills fans because of the lack of high-end QB talent available going into next year. As hot as he is, I think McCoy is maybe still underrated as a football coach and I would love to see him in Buffalo next year.

Against: Tebow, Tebow, Tebow. I physically would not being able to stomach Tebow in a Bills uniform. I legitimately believe that he is not actually left-handed, yet throws the football that way because no one ever told him he could use his natural hand. I don’t have many other negatives on McCoy, who I think would be a great fit.

Conclusion: If Russ Brandon and Co. are going to make a splashy hire, I believe this will be it. Mike McCoy is a close 2nd for me after Lovie Smith, and I believe he is also 2nd behind Ken Whisenhunt in terms of the most likely to end up with the job.

3 Replies to “Spinning on the Coaching Carousel”

  1. agree with ya on just about all of it. Lovie has already been aggressive with Buffalo, and i think after Chip Kelly turns them down and they wake up a bit and realize the answer is literally knocking on the door, will make the right hire. McCoy is 3rd choice, with Mike Zimmer my 2nd choice (ik there is no expressed interest at the moment but i think zimmer would be perfect)