On this date in 1985, Hank Bullough began his tenure as head coach of the Buffalo Bills, replacing the fired Kay Stephenson. The latter finished his head coaching career with a .278 winning percentage.
Stephenson, a former Bills quarterback in 1968, was the team's quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator before taking over a team in transition prior to the 1983 season. Chuck Knox had left the team after a strike-shortened 1982 season. The Bills lost key defenders to retirement, sent Reggie McKenzie to the Seahawks in a trade, lost Joe Devlin in the preseason, and with an aging quarterback in 32-year-old Joe Ferguson, the Bills were a team looking for direction. Unfortunately for Stephenson, the only direction they went was down.
The team got off to a 5-2 start under the new regime, even ending a 13-game slide in the Orange Bowl. But injuries continued to take their toll, and Buffalo reversed their record over the last seven games, finishing 8-8.
In Stephenson's three years as the Bills' head coach, the team was in the bottom quarter of the 28-team league every season in point differential, yardage differential, offensive yards, offensive points, rushing attempts, interceptions thrown and a host of other categories. His offenses stunk.
But it wasn't entirely his fault. The first draft pick of his tenure turned into huge bust TE Tony Hunter. His second, QB Jim Kelly, bolted for the USFL. Joe Cribbs made the Pro Bowl in 1983, rushing for over 1,100 yards, and Greg Bell replaced Cribbs admirably when the stubborn back also joined the USFL. But the team could never get on the same page and out of their own way.
When you go from 8-8 to 2-14 and start your third season 0-4, something has to give. In this case, it was Stephenson's job.
The Kay Stephenson era is probably best remembered for the change he requested for the helmets. With other AFC East teams sporting white helmets, Stephenson suggested switching to red. Thus, the current red helmets were born.
Defensive coordinator Hank Bullough led the Bills to a 2-10 record down the stretch to cap an awful year in Buffalo, but he managed to hold on to the job in the off-season. He was fired after beginning the 1986 season 2-7. His replacement was hand-picked by new GM Bill Polian, and Marv Levy's successes are well documented.
In 1985, at least we had the draft.