There is an emerging trend in the list of candidates that the Bills are hoping to interview to become their next head coach.
None of them have held the job before.
The team has officially interviewed Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and current interim head coach Anthony Lynn, and by the end of the day that list will also include Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.
The Bills have also requested permission to interview Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard (another interview that may happen today), Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and are “expected” to interivew Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
Between those six candidates, the only head-coaching experience at any level was Lynn’s interim performance in Week 17 against the Jets, a game that he’d probably rather keep off his résumé. The candidates, including Lynn, have largely built themselves on varying degrees of experience as position coaches and coordinators, with some of the candidates having playing experience to rely on as well.
Over the length of the playoff drought, the Bills have hired six head coaches. Three (Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, and Doug Marrone) had never been NFL head coaches. Three (Dick Jauron, Chan Gailey, and Rex Ryan) had been. Re-tread or rookie, it hasn’t mattered, so it’s best to not get hung up on the level of prior experience any of the candidates have.
Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News views the lack of experience with a healthy bit of skepticism (shocking, I know). In his mailbag, Sully states his belief that “the Bills want to go through the motions of a search that makes Lynn look like the most desirable candidate.” He also believes that the lack of experience is “a clear sign that they don't want anyone who has the clout to challenge Whaley and demand to be the most empowered figure in the football department.”
Allow me to disagree with both of those statements.
First, as far as making Lynn look like the most desirable candidate...he may be, but he’s not really head-and-shoulders above the rest of the crowd. McDermott is a very experienced defensive coordinator who was coaching in a Super Bowl last season. The last two men in Richard’s position both ended up being head coaches, and one of them led his team to a first-round playoff bye. Reich’s place in Bills lore speaks for itself.
What I’m saying is that, while there has been plenty of predeterminism around Lynn’s candidacy, he’s not necessarily a better choice than the others.
As far as the part about not wanting anyone to be able to challenge Whaley, well, that may be true. The candidate list, though, really doesn’t speak to that.
Let’s look at the two main coaching candidates with prior experience, neither of whom have or are scheduled to interview with the Bills. The first is former Giants and Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin, who was attached to the Bills early on in the search but has since been all but ruled out as a candidate.
As of today, Coughlin is 70 years and 129 days old. Marv Levy was 72 years and 140 days old when he retired at the end of the 1997 season, and George Halas was 72 years and 319 days old when he stepped away from the Bears at the close of the 1967 season as the oldest coach in NFL history. If you’re looking to establish a winning team, hiring a coach who’s already within striking distance of being the oldest on record is a poor place to start.
McDaniels, on the other hand, is only 40. In seven of his nine seasons with the Patriots (2006-2008, 2012-present), the team has put up a top-ten offense, and they finished 11th in the other two years. By all indications, it would be an absolute stunner if he’s still a coordinator next season.
I’m honestly not very clear about exactly how much control McDaniels had over the Broncos’ roster when he was the head coach in Denver for 2009 and most of 2010. The team did have someone in the role of GM (Brian Xanders, now with Detroit), but just about any article on the moves the team made while McDaniels was there refer to him as the point man. In an ESPN piece on the events that led Jay Cutler to be traded from the Broncos to the Bears, McDaniels almost seems to refer to himself as the GM, saying, “Your job, as a head coach and general manager, is to listen and not bypass any opportunity to help your team improve.”
Let’s take a look at what happened with the quarterback position during McDaniels’ time there, shall we? When he showed up, the Broncos had Cutler, who requested a trade after McDaniels stressed his preference for Matt Cassel (who he “built from the ground up,” according to the article I linked to in the last paragraph). Unable to trade for Cassel, Cutler was dealt to the Bears for Kyle Orton. Prior to the next draft, the Broncos traded a second, third, and fourth-round pick to acquire the 25th overall selection, which they used on Tim Tebow.
Read that paragraph again, and tell me you want the man behind any of those moves to have any power over your team’s personnel department. McDaniels is a fine coach, but he’s better served riding the decisions of a real general manager.
Anyways, back to my original point about the lack of experience behind the Bills’ main targets. I don’t think it’s some sinister plot from the Bills’ front office (although I wouldn’t be surprised if there are plenty brewing there). There will be a few rookie head coaches in this hiring cycle, and some of them will do very well in the top job. It seems like the Bills have designs on one of them...nothing more, nothing less.