It was a week ago today, following a 41-17 road loss to one of football's hottest teams in Tennessee, that the Buffalo Bills relieved head coach Dick Jauron of his duties and promoted defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to interim head coach. Since then, the Bills have lost a close road game in Jacksonville, suffered two more devastating, season-ending injuries, and crept a little closer toward the top of the 2010 NFL Draft order.
Most interestingly of all, they've also been linked to nearly every big-name head coach on the market.
Mike Shanahan, former head coach of Denver, will meet with the Bills at some point this week, before Thanksgiving on Thursday. The team went after Jon Gruden briefly before he re-upped his contract with ESPN's "Monday Night Football." Last night, NFL.com reported that the Bills have reached out to former Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher. Tangentially, names like Mike Holmgren, Tony Dungy and Marty Schottenheimer have been mentioned, too, though it seems apparent that none of those three men are particularly interested in coaching again.
Heck, even Charlie Weis has been mentioned. (I'll restrain myself on that one for the time being.)
Buffalo seems to be going all in. Ralph Wilson has said he's willing to do whatever it takes to win, and there have been reports that he's willing to spend as much as $10 million annually to bring in the best head coach possible. That's nice and all, but it'd be nice to hear that the Bills are making a Plan B list of names, too - preferably, General Manager candidates.
Bills don't really have an advantage
The prevailing theory behind the timing of Jauron's firing is that Wilson and COO Russ Brandon wanted to get a head start on the competition for the services of the big-name coaches above. In terms of men who want to coach, that's Shanahan and Cowher - and they're probably going to be the top two candidates for every job opening this season (with the exception of Shanahan being a candidate for a possible opening in Oakland).
As such, Shanahan and Cowher are smart. They know they're coveted. Cowher has said that he won't listen to any offers until after the season is over; he doesn't have to. There will always be a market for his services. The same goes for Shanahan, though he will meet with Buffalo this week to at least discuss the opening and, as everyone is putting it, hear what Buffalo has to say. Most industry insiders suggest that Shanahan, too, won't make a decision until after the season, when the market is set. If it gets to that point - and odds are outstanding that it will - Buffalo's offer to either of these guys will become less illustrious by the day.
Shanahan and Cowher are the only options out there that truly fit the GM/Head Coach role that Buffalo seems to prefer. Forget about the other available big names as potential coaches. Holmgren, Dungy and Schottenheimer won't be coaching in 2010. That doesn't mean, however, that they don't make nice Plan B options.
Plan B needs to be front office-oriented
Weis is just one of a handful of second-tier coaching prospects that are apparently on Buffalo's radar. Other names that have been mentioned include Jim Haslett, Kevin Gilbride, Marc Trestman and Perry Fewell. That's great and all, but that doesn't fix the Bills' real issue - the front office. Shanahan and Cowher at least do that in theory; none of these Plan B coaching options have the clout or respectability to handle the dual role the Bills seem to prefer.
My nerves - shot by a decade of brutal football - would be soothed tremendously if we started hearing names of personnel men linked to Buffalo. That's where guys like Holmgren, Schottenheimer and Dungy fit in - none of those guys will be coaching, but they might be intrigued by the idea of holding a Bill Parcells-like role within an organization. (Holmgren, by the way, has already been linked to Cleveland in exactly that manner.) There are also proven, experienced GMs on the market - Charley Casserly is an example - that the Bills should be exploring. There are young up-and-comers worth looking at as well, such as Baltimore's Eric DeCosta (you knew it was coming).
I don't have a huge problem with the Bills pursuing names like Shanahan and Cowher for a dual role within the organization. It's not the way I'd do it, but that doesn't mean it can't work. I don't think I need to tell you that hiring either would bring excitement back to this football team, not to mention a degree of respect we haven't had in... well, a decade.
But Buffalo seems to be putting most of their eggs in two big baskets, and an egg or two in completely bone-headed locations. Buffalo won't change a lick if they miss out on the big names and decide to plug in one of the second-tier coaches listed above into a still-dysfunctional organization. Again, those guys don't have the clout to re-structure an organization correctly. It'd be a disaster similar to the epically failed experiment we've seen in Cleveland this past season with Eric Mangini and George Kokinis.
Buffalo needs to start working on Plan B. Perhaps they already are - and if they are, good on them. Reach out to the available general manager-types, such as Holmgren or Casserly. Make a list of potential GM candidates currently employed by other organizations to speak with in the (likely) event Shanahan and Cowher take jobs elsewhere, or else don't coach at all. And if we can just never bring up names like Weis or Haslett again until a front office voice is chosen, that'd be fantastic as well. Plan A sounds good, but the current Plan B we're aware of won't fix a thing.