It's only appropriate that Buffalo Bills interim head coach Perry Fewell's first game as an NFL head coach would be against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Fewell broke into the NFL as a coach with the Jaguars organization in 1998. Let's take a closer look at the Bills' new leader.
Perry Fewell attended South Point High School in Belmont, N.C. and was inducted into the Belmont Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. Following high school, he went to Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina and was a football standout. He was a four-year letterman, and as a senior in 1983, he was named the team's Most Improved Player.
College Coaching Career
Following his graduation, Fewell accepted a two-year stint with the North Carolina Tar Heels as a special assistant under head coach Dick Krum, followed by one year at Army. From 1988 to 1991, he made the move to Kent State University as a defensive assistant, before holding the same role back at Army (1992-1994). In 1995, Fewell became defensive backs coach and assistant head coach at Vanderbilt University, where they finished 2-9 twice and 3-8 - but coached future Pro Bowl safety Corey Chavous.
Professional Coaching Career
In 1998, Fewell accepted a job on Tom Coughlin's staff as defensive backs coach under defensive coordinator Dick Jauron. The following year, Jauron was hired in Chicago as head coach; former Panthers head coach Dom Capers replaced Jauron as defensive coordinator, and he kept Fewell on staff as his defensive backs coach. Capers left to accept the job as the expansion Houston Texans' head coach following the 2000 season. Gary Moeller was hired from the Lions to replace Capers, and John Pease took over the following year. Fewell continued to be passed over for the defensive coordinator job for much more experienced candidates.
After Coughlin's firing in 2002, Fewell moved to St. Louis, where he was appointed defensive backs coach under head coach Mike Martz and defensive coordinator Lovie Smith. With the Rams, Fewell coached Aeneas Williams, his greatest pupil, to his final Pro Bowl appearance. The Rams snagged 24 interceptions in Fewell's first year. When Smith took the head coaching job in Chicago, Fewell was again passed over for the coordinator position, as the Rams hired recently-fired Cardinals defensive coordinator Larry Marmie.
A year later, Fewell joined Smith's staff in Chicago as the defensive backs coach under defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. During one year with the Bears, both safety Mike Brown and cornerback Nathan Vasher were selected to the Pro Bowl, and Chicago ranked second in defense and third in passing defense.
A year after joining the Bears, Fewell was offered his first chance at a defensive coordinator job with the Buffalo Bills and new head coach Dick Jauron. Jauron, as mentioned earlier, was defensive coordinator in Jacksonville when Fewell broke into the NFL as defensive backs coach there. In his years as a coordinator in Buffalo, Fewell's units have been up and down in statistically in every category - except rushing yards, where they have ranked in the bottom 10 for four straight years. Aaron Schobel is the only Bills defender to be selected to the Pro Bowl in Fewell's time in Buffalo, earning the honor in 2006 and 2007.
On November 17, 2009, the Bills fired Jauron as head coach, promoting Fewell to the interim head coaching position. Here's a quote from Aeneas Williams who says he isn't surprised by Fewell's promotion at all:
"Coach Fewell knew how to relate to the guys to get the veterans as well as the younger guys to play together. He commanded the respect of the players -- not demanded, but he commanded the respect of us players by his professionalism and his ability to help us be successful."
ESPN's Adam Schefter had some interesting points to make about Fewell in a recent article as well:
When NFL teams were sifting through head-coaching candidates to interview last winter, at least three of them were advised to talk to Buffalo's then-defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. None did. But now the Bills have given the 47-year-old Fewell an opportunity as interim head coach... Some men carry themselves in a way befitting an NFL head coach; Fewell is one of them. Sitting in a conference room in an Indianapolis hotel last summer before a preseason game against the Colts, Fewell impressed those around him with his mix of smarts and seriousness. It is what he has done in each of his NFL stops -- Jacksonville, St. Louis, Chicago and Buffalo. Now Fewell inherits a talent-deficient roster, with plenty of holes along the offensive line. But should the Bills play for him the way the 49ers played last season for Mike Singletary, Fewell could wind up having the "interim" tag removed from his title.
On his new role as Bills head coach, Fewell wasn't thrilled his chance had to come at the expense of one of his mentors. "It's something I always wanted to do," said Fewell, "but I didn't envision doing it like this." Only time will tell if he holds onto the position for longer than the seven games he is scheduled to coach now. Either way, Fewell will certainly have a home in the NFL in 2010 and beyond.