We have reached Day 12 of the Buffalo Bills' coaching search. I'm throwing the team a bone, because in reality, they've been on the prowl for a head coach since November 17. We'll go with 12 days to keep psyche as high as possible, and no, I will not hear your rational arguments to the contrary. 12 days, folks.
As it stands right now, Buffalo's got one relevant interview in the bag, having sat down last week with Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Yes, they interviewed Perry Fewell, but as he's the shiny new defensive coordinator for the Giants, it's unlikely he'll be Buffalo's next head coach. The team has one more potential interview scheduled likely for next week, when they'll sit down with Arizona assistant head coach Russ Grimm, whose reported interest in the job can best be described as "lukewarm."
Buffalo had a Plan A - they wooed Mike Shanahan and Bill Cowher. Neither man was overly interested in the job, and one has a brand new employer in our nation's capital. The team also had a Plan B - they reached out to Frazier, Grimm and Jets coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. That group has netted just one interview, however, and possibly a second - again, if that happens, it'll probably be next week.
No matter which way you cut it, the Bills need to save a little face. Plan A blew up. Plan B didn't work out exactly as expected, either, and the end result could be just one man with serious interest in the job. That one man can't be the final stop in the search process - it doesn't look good for the team, and ultimately, it's not in the team's best interests, either.
No one's really sure just how long Frazier and/or Grimm might have to wait to accept any offer either gets from the Bills, because they can't be hired until their teams are eliminated from the playoffs (or, obviously, if they win it all). That means that Buffalo could be waiting as long as this coming Monday to make an offer, or as far away as February 8. Heck, the final season of Lost will have started at that point.
While the Bills play the waiting game, they need to be on the horn with currently available candidates, even if they're not overly interested in making offers. There are qualified men out there. Brian Billick is one. There are young, well-respected coordinators that likely wouldn't refuse even the opportunity to interview, such as Miami's Todd Bowles or Philadelphia's Sean McDermott. Sitting idly by waiting for your Plan B options to become available serves no purpose. Expanding your search process even by a name or two helps you make a better decision. It certainly can't hurt.
My top six
Since Dick Jauron's firing, I've gotten tens of emails from readers asking me which coaching candidate I preferred to see the Bills hire. Naturally, those types of emails have picked up a little steam over the last two weeks. I held off on answering the question in a public fashion for a while because of all the news breaking and the nature of the search; I'll finally go on record this morning.
Yeah, I fully expect to get some ribbing for this list. But I can only tell you what I believe, and this has been my list all along. One note: I never put any of the big names on my list (such as Shanahan, Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer) because, well, I'm not delusional. I never eliminated them, because we've seen crazier things happen, but I never entertained the notion that they were more than fantasy candidates. My list is, at least in my mind, much more realistic - and given the way things have played out, I feel pretty good about it.
1 - Leslie Frazier. Yes, seriously, Frazier has been at the top of my list since mid-November. I obviously didn't expect him to vault to the top of Buffalo's list in the fashion that he did, and if I lived in some Madden-like fantasy world, he obviously wouldn't have had the '1' next to his name. I consider him the best coordinator candidate available, for three big reasons: he's very well-respected around the league, he's worked for a large number of excellent coaches, and he knows what it means to build a football team from the ground up. The respect will help him build a quality coaching staff. The experience imbued elements of Tony Dungy, Marvin Lewis and Andy Reid into his coaching philosophies. He built the program at Trinity College up from scratch, winning two championships in the process. Temperament? His is good, but it's not overly important. Scheme? Results? He's done well in both, but again, not overly important. I'm a proponent of a coach as an overseer; a guy who lets his assistants coach and focuses on managing the situation. Frazier is that type of guy.
2 - Ron Rivera. Rivera has worked his way through the coaching ranks quicker than Frazier has, which necessarily gives him less experience. Unlike Frazier, he's never been top dog with any entity as a coach. But there are similarities - philosophically and in the way they handle players and earn their respect. Rivera's been successful everywhere he's gone, something that Frazier can't claim himself. As you might be able to tell, I prefer defensive head coaches, which is why Rivera ranked so highly on my initial list. As of this point, it doesn't appear that he'll get an interview in Buffalo, though that could change once San Diego completes its playoff run.
3 - Russ Grimm. Obviously, Grimm has a great reputation around the league as well, as a former player (and Hall of Fame candidate) and as one of the league's better offensive line coaches. It's telling that Grimm's coaching career has been marked by lengthy stints - first, he spent eight years in Washington, and then he spent a further seven in Pittsburgh under Bill Cowher. Now he's got three under his belt in Arizona. He's ready to be a head guy, though he's never done it before at any level. Yes, he's worked on offense his entire football career, but the guy isn't some offensive guru - I don't think he's ever even called plays. I view that as an advantage for him, because he won't be the Todd Haley or Josh McDaniels type in which he has to control every little detail from the get-go and ends up overwhelming himself. Grimm can delegate and motivate, and I think he'd be an excellent choice. Hopefully, his interest in Buffalo grows once Arizona's done playing.
4 - Todd Bowles. Bowles is quite easily the most inexperienced coach on this list NFL-wise, having been at this level since just 2005. He's a former player that, again, is well-respected around the league, and he's got an up-and-comer vibe about him, much like Perry Fewell does. Bowles has worked under one coaching tree his entire professional coaching career, working with Bill Parcells in Dallas before migrating to Miami under Tony Sparano (who, of course, was hired by Parcells and GM Jeff Ireland). Right now, he's Miami's assistant head coach and secondary coach, and one only needs to look at the rookie production of Sean Smith and Vontae Davis to understand how great of a teacher this guy is. I'm not sure he's ready to run the show anywhere; he certainly doesn't have the clout to really challenge decisions made from Buffalo's hierarchy. But he's an up-and-comer, and I think any up-and-comer is at least worth a long look in an interview.
5 - Brian Schottenheimer. Yes, I liked Schottenheimer, even though his reputation in New Jersey is less than stellar. I wrote about him last week and outlined the big reasons why he was on my list - his extensive work with outstanding quarterbacks, his creativity, and his youth, energy and potential. I think Schottenheimer has more potential than anyone on this list as a head guy. But I'm not sure that he's the type to delegate play-calling responsibilities, and as I mentioned referencing Haley and McDaniels, I'm not a fan of coaches that can't relinquish control of details to their assistants. Schottenheimer was a "prove it" guy for me - definitely worth an interview, but not necessarily the best choice. Obviously, this is now irrelevant, as Schottenheimer has decided to stay with the Jets.
6 - Winston Moss. He's number six on my list for a reason - I'm not completely enamored of the guy, obviously - but I thought he'd merit an interview in Buffalo. He played for 11 years with Tampa Bay, Oakland Los Angeles and Seattle, and he's been a coach in the league for 10 years, the last four as Green Bay's assistant head coach and inside linebackers coach. Players respect him, the league respects him, and he comes off as a delegator. But he's also the least proven of any of these coaches, and in no way am I disappointed that Buffalo's hasn't even sniffed in his direction.