Mike Pettine has left the Buffalo Bills to become the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and he's already attempting to take at least one Bills assistant with him to his new gig. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Jim O'Neil, a Pettine sidekick for five years and currently the Bills' linebackers coach, is a candidate to become the Browns' defensive coordinator.
Browns submitted request to Buffalo to interview Bills LB coach Jim O’Neil for Cleveland’s DC. O’Neil and Pettine worked together with Jets.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 23, 2014
In the week-plus that Pettine was a candidate for the Cleveland job, Bills fans speculated that O'Neil - who followed Pettine to the Bills from the New York Jets last year, where he was an assistant secondary coach - would be a prime candidate to replace Pettine in an effort to find system continuity. Buffalo has the option to prevent O'Neil from interviewing to join Pettine's staff, as he is still under contract, but that decision may be influenced on their own direction at the now vacant defensive coordinator post.
Three other defensive assistants have ties to Pettine: Anthony Weaver (defensive line) and Samson Brown (assistant defensive backs) coached with Pettine and O'Neil while he was in New York, while Donnie Henderson (defensive backs) coached with Pettine in 2002 and 2003 at Baltimore. Of that group, Henderson is by far the least likely to jump; in fact, Henderson is probably the Bills' top internal candidate to replace Pettine, especially if O'Neil is allowed to interview in Cleveland.
Last week, the Bills hired former Tampa Bay safeties coach Jeff Hafley under the nebulous title of Defensive Assistant. His role will likely clarify after Marrone decides who he'll replace Pettine with, and after Pettine finishes pillaging the Bills of his allies. This late in the hiring season, things on this front should move fairly quickly.