The Buffalo Bills are officially in need of a new defensive coordinator, as Mike Pettine has accepted an offer to become the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen broke the news on Thursday morning, with Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer the first to report an agreement had been reached between the Browns and Pettine on Thursday afternoon (the Browns have already confirmed the hire). Speculation picked up late on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday that Pettine had emerged as the Browns' top guy. Pettine became a leading candidate for the Browns job after Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase removed his name from consideration earlier on Tuesday, and stayed atop the team's list even as several other candidates were considered. He was the seventh of 10 candidates that ultimately interviewed for the position.
Bills head coach Doug Marrone told John Murphy on Monday that he had already met with team president Russ Brandon and general manager Doug Whaley about contingency plans for the defensive coordinator slot if Pettine left. If that trio hatched a succession plan, we're likely to hear about it soon, as the team is still at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, where they have quick access to several assistant coaches they may be interested in speaking to.
"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 of Pettine's potential departure on Monday. "These things in this league happen quick. We’re prepared to act on them."
Bills general manager Doug Whaley reiterated that a plan is in place earlier this week from the Senior Bowl, as well.
Internally, the Bills have a couple of potential candidates for promotion: defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson, a 30-year coaching veteran with three years of NFL coordinator experience, is a prime in-house candidate to succeed Pettine, as is linebackers coach Jim O'Neil, who has worked in Pettine's system for five consecutive years. O'Neil, however, is also a prime candidate to follow Pettine to Cleveland. Again, it's also possible that the team could pursue an outside candidate, but this late in the hiring season, their options are a bit limited.
Scooped up quickly by Marrone after the latter was hired as head coach last January, Pettine helped turned the Bills into a Top 10 defense ranked by yards allowed, and the team finished second in the league in both sacks (57) and interceptions (23). The team produced four Pro Bowl participants (three of them were voted in on merit): defensive linemen Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, and safety Jairus Byrd. Gains against the run were negligible, but the man is a football coach, not a miracle worker.
Regardless of who replaces Pettine as the Bills' defensive coordinator, he'll be the fourth man to hold the job in Buffalo in as many seasons. He'll replace Pettine, who replaced Dave Wannstedt after a one-year stint on the job; Wannstedt replaced post-2011 season fall guy George Edwards. All of a sudden, pressure is on Marrone to make his second great defensive coordinator hire in a 12-month period.