Have Bills already begun transition to 3-4?

When Chan Gailey was introduced as head coach of the Buffalo Bills a week ago yesterday, early speculation held that the Bills would continue to run the 4-3 defense that Gailey's teams at Dallas and Georgia Tech employed. Despite his insistence at his introductory press conference that he wasn't averse to running a 3-4 because he knows "what a pain it is to go against every week," the availability of one of Gailey's old colleagues, Jim Bates, made the idea of the Bills sticking with a 4-3 all the more realistic.

That all went out the door yesterday, when reports leaked that the Bills were set to hire former Georgia Tech recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Giff Smith as their outside linebackers coach. 4-3 teams typically do not employ outside linebackers coaches, folks. Nor do 4-3 teams typically promote college defensive line coaches to NFL linebackers coach.

The Smith move alone holds up with as-of-yet unconfirmed reports that the Bills have already decided to switch to the 3-4 permanently, despite no reports indicating who their next defensive coordinator might be. If those reports are true - and indications are they very well could be - the coordinator likely will not be Bates, who is strictly a 4-3 guy. Which, of course, brings up the big question: who will be the defensive coordinator?

The search for a team of assistant coaches marches on for Gailey, and while bits and pieces are starting to come together - along with Smith, there are reports that Curtis Modkins will join the staff, and George Catavolos will be retained - nothing is likely to be confirmed until the majority of the staff is in place and agreements have been reached. This is not uncommon when a new staff is being assembled for the first time.

Until we hear reports or get direct confirmation from the team, however, all we can do is speculate. BuffaloSportsDaily.com, which has the report on the team's move to the 3-4, threw out the name of a potential defensive coordinator with vast experience in the 3-4: Vic Fangio.

Fangio's name might catch some people off guard, because he's never worked directly with Gailey before. Considering the two guys Gailey has brought in to this point, it's not hard to understand why that might be viewed as a pre-requisite. Fangio does have a (very) indirect connection with Gailey, however; eight of Fangio's 25 years coaching at the NFL level have been as the defensive coordinator of choice for Dom Capers, who spent two four-year stints as coach in Carolina and Houston. Capers, of course, spent three years working with Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh, and it's well known that Cowher and Gailey worked together and respect one another immensely.

Fangio has 11 total years as a defensive coordinator at this level, as he also spent three seasons running the 3-4 in Indianapolis under head coach Jim Mora. Prior to his three coordinator stints, Fangio spent nine seasons coaching outside linebackers in New Orleans, where his quartet of linebackers - Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson - became superstars.

That said, Fangio is not a popular name as a coordinator, particularly in Indianapolis. Most recently, Fangio spent four years in Baltimore, where in 2009 he was the team's linebackers coach under John Harbaugh. Baltimore hired former New England defensive coordinator Dean Pees as its new linebackers coach earlier this week, and in its press release announcing Fangio's departure from the club, Baltimore included this cryptic line at the end:

Fangio is expected to make an announcement of his future plans soon, perhaps this week.

Read into that what you like. Either Fangio was forced out and Baltimore is allowing him to save face, or he's about to take on a different, possibly bigger, challenge.

Again, this is all speculation on our part. We'll emphasize that one more time: s-p-e-c-u-l-a-t-i-o-n. There has literally been nothing on the rumor front regarding the next Bills defensive coordinator, so the only reason we're discussing Fangio is because he's the only lead - concrete or not - that we've got at this point if the 3-4 stuff is true. Obviously, we have no way of knowing whether or not that press release quote means anything more than exactly what it says, but it's definitely intriguing to think about.

Please feel free to use this as an open thread to discuss the (should we say 'likely' yet?) move to the 3-4, Fangio, or any other names of potential coordinators you might want to discuss. One thing is certain: no matter who the coordinator is, if the team is in fact moving to the 3-4, it's going to be a difficult transition.

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