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NFL coaching rumors: Bills have plan if Mike Pettine leaves for Cleveland

While the Buffalo Bills wait to see if Mike Pettine is Cleveland's next head coach, they are apparently making contingency plans in the event that he does leave.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone appeared on The John Murphy Show from the 2014 Senior Bowl on Monday, and hinted that the team has developed contingency plans on its defensive coaching staff if Mike Pettine leaves to become the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

"It’s a waiting situation right now," Marrone told Murphy. "Credit to Mike - he’s done a great job, even prior coming to Buffalo. One thing about the NFL is that when you’ve done a good job like Mike has, and he’s done an excellent job for us, you’re going to get recognized in this profession. Mike having the ability to go and interview for a head coaching job is something that he’s put a lot of work in (for), and it’s something that he deserves."

Last week, the Bills added former Tampa Bay safeties coach Jeff Hafley to their coaching staff as a Defensive Assistant. Many speculated that this could be a preemptive move if Pettine departed. Marrone confirmed only that Hafley's role could change if Pettine leaves.

"Any time you have the ability to - obviously with how volatile this league is - when you can go get a coach that you admire, that’s a good young football coach that’s up and coming, you go ahead and do that, and that’s what we did," Marrone said Monday. "We brought Jeff on, right now, as a defensive assistant until we know the direction that we’re going."

Marrone also told Murphy that he has had conversations with team president Russ Brandon and general manager Doug Whaley about contingency plans at defensive coordinator if Pettine does not return.

"Obviously for us, I’ve talked with Russ and Doug and we’ve sat down and had talks (about) how to get plans ready in case this happens," Marrone said. "These things in this league happen quick. We’re prepared to act on them. Hopefully Mike gets what’s best for him, and if Mike stays, then we go back to work for 2014."

Buffalo's two strongest in-house candidates to replace Pettine, should it come to that, are defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson and linebackers coach Jim O'Neil.

A 30-year coaching veteran, Henderson was an NFL defensive coordinator for three seasons - two with the New York Jets in 2004-05 under Herm Edwards, and then for the Detroit Lions in 2006 under Rod Marinelli. Henderson spent five years with the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2003 as the defensive backs coach, working under defensive coordinators Marvin Lewis and Mike Nolan, and alongside Rex Ryan and Pettine, before his promotion to New York. He also obviously served under Pettine in the Bills' current scheme last season.

O'Neil, meanwhile, has spent the last five years of his coaching career working for Pettine - first as an assistant defensive backs coach with the Jets, and then last year as the Bills' outside linebackers coach. The 35-year-old would fit the up-and-coming profile of Buffalo's coaching staff - he'd barely be older than offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett - but if Pettine does get a head coaching gig, one would think that O'Neil would be a prime candidate to join Pettine in his new home.

Whatever their plans may be - and it's imprudent to rule out the possibility of an outside hire if they're forced to replace Pettine - the Bills are stuck waiting for Cleveland to make a call on their head coaching gig. That may not happen until after Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2.