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Head coaching candidates for the Buffalo Bills, post-Rexit

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These names will get you started for Buffalo’s upcoming Panda Watch.

Anthony Lynn

Buffalo’s interim head coach is a man on a rapid ascent. You know his story by now: Lynn spent 13 seasons coaching in the NFL following his retirement, first with a short stint as a special teams assistant, then as a running backs coach. Lynn was promoted to offensive coordinator this year after Greg Roman’s firing, then received another boost for the final game of the season after Ryan’s ouster.

At first glance, Lynn may seem like an unproven candidate, with only 13 games of coordinating an offense. But at 13 years of coaching experience, he’s actually more tenured than any of last year’s head coach hires not named Hue Jackson or Mike Mularkey. Furthermore, he has handled this year remarkably well, especially given the abrupt coaching shakeup and the host of injuries affecting Buffalo’s wide receivers and offensive line. Consider the following:

If we were to take the 13 games Lynn has coordinated and extrapolate the raw numbers out to 15 effective games, here is how Buffalo’s offense stacks up:

-Buffalo’s rushing offense would have 2782 yards and 31 touchdowns on 486 rushes, a 5.72 yards per carry average that would be the best in post-merger history. They’d have the most touchdowns since Ladainian Tomlinson’s historic 2006 season.

-The passing offense would be essentially as productive as the full-year numbers, that is, slotting the team somewhere between 24th and 32nd for most conventional raw and rate stats.

-With 9 turnovers on the season, the Bills would lead the league in fewest turnovers and come second in turnover percentage to the Patriots. Assuming the Bills don’t turn the ball over three times on Sunday, they would set a record for fewest offensive turnovers in NFL history.

-At 405 points scored, the offense would be just scraping the edge of the top 5 in the NFL, behind the Falcons, Saints, Raiders, Cowboys, and Patriots.

Lynn has a strong case to be the next head coach based on this resume, his apparent feel for the game and people management, and the Pegulas’ publicly stated “preference for continuity”.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Oakland Raiders
Ask Rex what he thinks about the Pegulas’ preference for continuity.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Coughlin

With that in mind, the team could still try to keep Lynn around as offensive coordinator and hire an experienced head coach to manage other parts of the team. The former Rochester Institute of Technology coach has a 170-150 (.531) coaching record in the NFL, along with a 12-7 (.632) playoff record. He successfully built up the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars into a competitive playoff team and won two Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants.

Coughlin is a distinguished and well-respected head coach and leader of men, and would immediately bring an air of professionalism to Buffalo’s front office of turmoil. That said, he didn’t see much success in his final few years with the Giants, and at 70 years old, a case could be made that the game is passing him by. Still, he could be an effective bridge coach for the Bills, and a potential way for the team to keep Lynn around as offensive coordinator until they feel ready to promote him to the top gig.

Teryl Austin

Two renowned spaghetti-throwers, Jason Cole of Bleacher Report and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, both believe a connection can be drawn between Terry Pegula and Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, someone who Pegula reportedly converses with on the regular. For what it’s worth, the Bills (and Pegula) interviewed Austin two years ago, so this report isn’t entirely without precedent.

Austin has worked in the NFL since 2003, coaching defensive backs until a 2014 hiring as defensive coordinator for the Lions. In his first season, the Lions had one of the NFL’s best defenses, but since then he’s mostly maintained a middle-of-the-pack ranking. He’s considered an exceptional talent at motivating, communicating, and strategizing; one of his pitches to teams during the last hiring cycle was that he would bring now-Dolphins head coach Adam Gase onto his coaching staff, which would suggest that he has a good eye for talent.

While Austin wouldn’t fit the definition of “bridge coach,” as a member of the defensive side of the ball, he could be inclined to keep the offensive staff intact while customizing his defensive personnel, if the Bills wished.

Keith Butler

With Doug Whaley reportedly leading the charge on this head coaching search, expect him to lean on experience and the list of names he knows to select candidates. Keeping that in mind, expect Butler to be on Buffalo’s radar. The Pittsburgh defensive coordinator has spent 13 years with the Steelers, first as a linebackers coach, then being promoted in 2015 with Dick LeBeau’s departure. He managed the development of key talents like James Harrison, Joey Porter, Lawrence Timmons, and (recently) Ryan Shazier. Since his promotion, the Steelers have been in the top ten of most defensive statistics, especially rushing defense.

Butler’s linebacker experience could help the Bills make some decisions with their defensive personnel. They have to develop Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland, and decide if they should keep Zach Brown. They have a young Shaq Lawson, Lerentee McCray, Jerry Hughes (who has had a down season due to injuries), and Lorenzo Alexander (who will be a free agent after his first-ever Pro Bowl edge rusher honors).

Todd Haley

Haley isn’t directly linked to Whaley because he joined the Steelers organization in 2012 after Buffalo hired Whaley as assistant general manager. Still, the Bills could lean on Whaley’s Pittsburgh connections to vet Haley and decide if he’s ready to coach again.

Haley has a 17-26 record as a head coach, and was fired after a mostly-unsuccessful stint as the leader of the Kansas City Chiefs. He was hired onto Pittsburgh’s staff to replace outgoing coordinator Bruce Arians.

Haley, whose reputation for being stubborn and hotheaded led to his downfall in Kansas City, had a disappointing start for the Steelers. After two seasons that saw the team sitting in the 18-24 ranking range on offense, he worked with Ben Roethlisberger to reinvent the offense, showing some newfound flexibility. Since then, the Steelers have had one of the league’s best offenses from the 2014-2016 season. Could he be ready to lead another team? The Bills may come asking.

Kyle Shanahan

Shanahan was one of the coaches to interview with the Bills in 2015. The team went in a different direction, and Shanahan ended up heading to Atlanta to coordinate their offense. In that time, he’s done an exceptional job reinventing the Falcons offense, turning it into the most high-scoring outlet in football this season.

Although Shanahan coached running quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, he is having his best success with a pocket passer in Matt Ryan. Is he the right fit for Buffalo’s personnel grouping, or will Tyrod Taylor hit the road if Shanahan is hired?