The Buffalo Bills are 1-1 under the direction of interim head coach Perry Fewell. Thrust into the limelight after replacing Dick Jauron as the head man on November 17, Fewell's Bills have started to differentiate themselves from Jauron's Bills, mostly in positive ways. The team is playing more competitive football. They've cut down on key mistakes (penalties and turnovers), they're playing more aggressive football, and they appear to be a more confident group.
Give Fewell a lot of credit, folks. He's dealing with many of the same issues Jauron did - injuries, an offensive line in flux, and all of the other problems we've discussed thoroughly in this space - and producing with that group. He's making smart decisions, personnel-wise and game situation-wise, and thus far, they've mostly paid off.
Amidst Buffalo's ongoing coaching search - which has extended to just about every prominent coaching name currently available - those in the loop, ESPN's Adam Schefter chief among them, have insisted repeatedly that Fewell would be given every opportunity to earn the full-time head coaching gig in Buffalo. Whether that comes to fruition or not remains to be seen, but interim coaches earning the job has happened before (see: Mike Singletary). Right now, Fewell's star is rising, and the possibility that he enters 2010 as the Bills' head coach is at least worth considering.
Don't confuse philosophy with scheme
Fewell has always been a lightning rod of controversy amongst Buffalo's fan base because of the Tampa 2 defense he preaches. He's the man responsible for using this defensive scheme - a scheme that requires lighter, quicker defenders. Buffalo's been banged up defensively, and they've brought in players that aren't completely snug fits for the scheme. The Tampa 2 itself is also quickly becoming outdated as NFL teams get more and more proficient at throwing the ball.
His defensive background should not be as relevant to whether or not he becomes Buffalo's next head coach as several other much more important factors.
Good head coaches make tough decisions. Fewell's made those decisions well, handing starting jobs to Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson despite the team having significant investments in Trent Edwards and Marshawn Lynch. (That's just one example, by the way.)
Good head coaches are leaders, teachers and motivators. Fewell has rallied the troops; these past two weeks have been Buffalo's most inspired performances of the season. And say what you want about Jauron, but every single assistant head coach he's ever hired, for all of their faults, have been excellent teachers. Fewell is an excellent teacher.
Good head coaches preach philosophy before scheme. Schemes exist because they work; if a scheme doesn't work, it will cease to exist. Forget about the 4-3 versus the 3-4 argument, because both schemes can be successful. What really matters is the type of football a coach prefers. It's become obvious in a very short amount of time that Fewell prefers fast, energetic, aggressive, smart football - and he's gotten the Bills to play that style of ball. If Fewell's as smart as he's looked, he'll bend scheme to fit his philosophy. We've seen him give teams 3-4 looks over the past two weeks; don't pigeon-hole him as a Tampa 2 guy. He's a fast, energetic, aggressive, smart football guy.
Fixing the real problem
Fans have fallen in love with the idea of Buffalo bringing in a big-name head coach to right the ship. I remain adamant that reeling in the biggest fish possible isn't a sure-fire cure. Buffalo's big issue has, and will remain, talent acquisition. Coaches coach players. Buffalo doesn't have enough good players; the Bills' single biggest need is in a front office voice to make final personnel decisions.
Before you marry yourself off to your "ideal candidate," keep that in mind. Head Coach isn't the biggest need area in Buffalo. The team should be looking at GM candidates, not talking about throwing tens of millions at head coaching candidates who will end up with too much power.
I like Perry Fewell's football philosophy. Who wouldn't? It's exactly what all successful NFL teams preach. If Buffalo was able to find a General Manager from outside the organization that had the same philosophical beliefs as Fewell, why couldn't that tandem be just as effective - or, ideally, more effective - than giving the reigns to one big fish? Fewell is the type of coordinator candidate that up-and-coming GMs love - he's high-energy, passionate, and a guy that can grow with the GM. I'm not saying it's likely that a GM would keep Fewell around, but it's not out of the question, either. So don't marry yourself to Fewell, either - the big problem needs to be fixed first.
The bottom line on Fewell
Don't call me over-excited, because I'm not. I'm fully aware of the fact that Fewell has exactly two games of NFL head coaching experience under his belt. I'm fully aware that the Buffalo Bills as an organization have a laundry list of problems to fix. I'm not advocating anything concrete here - but I am advocating that fans consider Fewell the legitimate coaching candidate that he's been all along.
Fewell is a good coach. He's got some moxie, he's a quick study, and he is making a name for himself. If Buffalo keeps playing up to opponents and exceeding expectations, you can bet that more than just the folks at One Bills Drive will notice. Buffalo won't be the only team with a coaching vacancy this year, and Fewell's star is rising.
I don't know what the future holds in Buffalo. I don't know how vigorously the team will pursue GM or big-name head coaching candidates. I don't know how the Bills will fare in their final five games. What I do know is that I really enjoy rooting for Perry Fewell's Buffalo Bills, and I don't believe I'm alone in that territory. We can talk about big names, re-building philosophies and all that jazz, but Fewell needs to be part of those conversations, folks. It's time to consider Perry Fewell a legitimate contender to be Buffalo's head coach in 2010.