When the Buffalo Bills fired general manager John Butler at the end of December in 2000, they immediately began looking for his replacement. They hired a big name two weeks later when on January 10, 2001, the team brought in former Pittsburgh Steelers personnel man Tom Donahoe.
From 1991 to 1999, Donahoe helped build the Steelers into perennial playoff contenders. They were the first AFC team to defeat the Bills in the playoffs in five season when they topped Buffalo in 1995, and made the playoffs five times in Donahoe's first six years as director of football operations. After a power struggle with coach Bill Cowher following a 6-10 season, Donahoe was ousted, working the next year for ESPN. He was considered a top candidate when Ralph Wilson hired him.
Donahoe is the only man to hold the title of President aside from Wilson for the Bills. Wilson relinquished the title when he hired Donahoe, and re-assumed the title when Donahoe was fired after a tenure Sal Maiorana called "a distater, and the Bills still haven't recovered."
Donahoe's first job as new general manager was to hire a brand new head coach. Wade Phillips, who had guided the Bills to the two playoff berths and three non-losing seasons, was fired either because Donahoe asked for it during his negotiation or he refused to make coaching changes that Wilson wanted. Phillips was fired two days before Donahoe's hiring became official.
Phillips had a combined 29-19 record as Bills head coach after being elevated from defensive coordinator when Hall of Famer Marv Levy retired. But following an 8-8 finish the Bills went a different direction despite Phillips' excellent winning percentage.
Donahoe would go on to hire a new head coach and transition the Bills away from their long-standing 3-4 defense to a 4-3 look. His drafting and handling of popular and talented Buffalo Bills free agents was looked upon with scrutiny and he did not achieve the same success in Buffalo that he did in Pittsburgh. | Sireric's Seven Ways Donahoe Destroyed The Bills
An interesting note about Donahoe is that he was expected to give serious consideration to former Steelers offensive coordinator Chan Gailey for the vacant coaching job that ultimately went to Gregg Williams.
The Bills haven't been back to the playoffs since Donahoe took over and the last head coach to take the team to a playoff lead is Phillips.