By the time Saturday is over, the Buffalo Bills will have interviewed six head coaching candidates. Beyond Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, the names and situations are largely interchangeable, in one fan's opinion.
Initial reports that Oregon head coach Chip Kelly was close to a deal to become the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns were put on hold - if only temporarily - when Kelly informed the Browns that he'd like to complete the interview process with all interested parties. As such, Kelly interviewed with the Buffalo Bills on Friday evening, and will also interview with the Philadelphia Eagles today before getting back in touch with Cleveland.
Even as the brakes were pumped, Kelly to Cleveland still looks to be a foregone conclusion - and if (when) it happens, the Bills will have lost out on one of six coaches that they've interviewed for their head coaching vacancy. It's just my opinion, but when Kelly goes off the market - and if he doesn't do so by miraculously deciding he'd like to coach in Buffalo - the Bills should wrap up their coaching search as quickly as possible.
Out of the Bills' list of interviewed candidates - a list that includes Kelly, Ken Whisenhunt, Ray Horton, Lovie Smith, Doug Marrone and, after he interviews a bit later on today, Mike McCoy - Kelly is the only unique entity. Known for his distinct, fast-paced, power running offense from the spread formation and his uncommon, up-tempo practice setting, Kelly won big at Oregon (he's 46-7 there in four years) based largely on his own systems, and not necessarily because of the talent on hand. We can argue up and down about whether or not Kelly's style will transition to the NFL, but that's sort of the point - the team hiring him will be trying something different, even if they're taking a pretty significant risk in doing so.
Whisenhunt, Horton, Smith, Marrone and McCoy? They are not different; they're products of the NFL system. Sure, the Bills should do their due diligence with each (as well as with any other candidates they may pursue) and find the guy that they think fits the type of culture and environment that they're trying to build now that Chan Gailey is out of the picture. Me, personally? I don't care which they hire out of that quintet.
Maybe you favor hiring Whisenhunt, who has proven that with a good quarterback, he can take a team to the promised land. Buffalo does not, however, have a good quarterback - and if Whisenhunt is going to be discernibly better than he was in his last three years in Arizona, he needs a quarterback.
Perhaps you're intrigued by Smith (if you're here, the odds say you are), eager to see what one of the league's stronger defensive minds can do with the individual talent on that side of the ball in Buffalo. If you're into that idea, you're likely at least partially intrigued by the significant statistical success Horton has had in Arizona over the past two years, too. Smith and Horton, though, are coaches that need quarterbacks.
Does McCoy's name intrigue you because of his wizardry in making Tim Tebow look like a competent NFL quarterback (aided by one of the NFL's best defenses in the process)? There's merit to that thought, of course, but 2012 has proven that even a wizard looks much more competent with an actual quarterback.
Or maybe you're so desperate for the Bills to draft a quarterback for once that you'd like to see Syracuse's Marrone hired simply to (negligibly?) increase the odds that Ryan Nassib will land in Buffalo. Your heart is in the right place, but it's no lock that Marrone would land his quarterback - and he, too, will need a quarterback.
Kelly is the one coach that the Bills have interviewed that brings something tangibly unique to the table, in my opinion. Hiring him would signal an instant and radical culture shift, and the entire operation - from the perceived succession plan at GM down to Kelly's unique coaching philosophies - would be experimental. Experimental can be scary - there's a decidedly higher chance that a plan will blow up in your face when you're experimenting - but in a sports town like Buffalo, experimental is preferable to status quo. There is nothing even remotely experimental about the rest of the coaches; they are interchangeable to the point of splitting hairs over personal style preferences, and to a man, finding a quarterback would be of the utmost importance. That may not be the case with Kelly, whose system is so different that it might not require the prototypical passer to succeed.
That's why, if Kelly does land in Cleveland, I won't have a horse in the race. The other five candidates all bring something interesting to the table, but they all have warts, and they all distract from the bigger picture: Buffalo needs a quarterback. I'll talk myself into getting behind any of those five coaches, because frankly, they're all rock solid leaders. When one is hired, the real work will begin.