All heck broke loose in and of One Bills Drive while I was in the midst of a drive to Louisiana that featured a smart phone and iPad as my only web composition platforms. To put it bluntly: I didn’t feel like dealing with the issues that come alongside touch-typing with my fat thumbs. I also haven’t been listening to local Buffalo radio or seeing much opinion in print/online, so if I’m disparaging anyone’s points it’s nothing personal.
As an aside, Louisiana sports fans are passionate and hilarious. Within the three days of LSU losing to Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, the following topics existed on their sports radio stations, courtesy callers: One) Should LSU hierarchy not sign Les Miles contract extension because he lost to Clemson?; Two) Since Teddy Bridgewater was interested in coming to LSU but would only sign somewhere with his 5’10″ wide receiver best friend, is Les Miles a bad recruiter for signing Zach Mettenberger instead?; Three) Since their final drives failed against Florida and Alabama due to rushing and passing, was passing the wrong idea for the final drive against Clemson?
Let’s begin with the Bills coaching thing. There are risks involved with every single candidate, which includes the mythical Chip Kelly (People know he’s not Jim Kelly’s long-lost twin, right?). Kelly took over an Oregon program that was very strong and made it pop through its original ceiling. After being offensive coordinator to legendary coach-then-AD Mike Bellotti for two years, he’s been incredible as Ducks head coach. I do believe it’s worth noting that Bellotti was a very, very good football coach who stepped down from a program that went 116-55 under his watch, including four 10-win seasons. But Kelly is a modern marvel who will get, and arguably already deserves, a shot to succeed at the NFL level. I don’t doubt that he’ll be able to make his offense work in some fashion, but it’s definitely concerting that a minute percentage of coaches with zero NFL experience have made the jump to the league. This isn’t about the game being faster — Kelly made the leap from New Hampshire to the PAC-10 (at the time), for goodness’ sake — it’s about relating to pupils who don’t need to be there, coaching spoiled grown men instead of spoiled scholarship kids. Should a bevy of NFL-experienced assistants be able to guide him? Of course, but are there enough Chan Gaileys out there to come work for a guy with zero NFL experience in Buffalo? Real questions, folks.
Next, my personal favorite in Lovie Smith. The former Bears coach gets defense and has won a ton (though not the ultimate prize). He has an 81-63 mark that includes a 5-11 mark in his first season. He’s won in multiple spins including a turnaround from the last time he was left for dead, a 7-9/9-7/7-9 run between 2007-2009. Two of his assistants, Perry Fewell and Ron Rivera, instituted strong defenses in other organizations. Why did the Bears falter to 10-6 and no playoffs after going 7-1 to start the year? Well for one, their hot start was against almost no one of merit and their losses in the 3-5 finish were against some darn good teams (vs Hou, @SF, vs Sea, @MIN, vsGB). Still, even with a win to close out the season and hope for math, it wasn’t good enough. Packers and Vikings in the division or not (plus the Lions for a year), Smith missed the playoffs in five of his last six seasons. I’d be fired up proper if the Bills hired Smith, but let me be clear: it’s personal preference, not a sure thing (last I checked, the premise of this post is that no sure things exist in the coaching market).
On to Kenneth Moore Whisenhunt. First and foremost, he does fit the ‘bill’ of Bills coaches with odd middle names (or at least odd use of a middle name; see Thomas Chandler Gailey, Richard Manuel Jauron, Michael Rene Mularkey). From what I see on Twitter, folks are calling it the end of the world because — after coordinating the Steelers to a Super Bowl and then leading the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance — Whisenhunt struggled without a semblance of quarterback play (arguably with less talent than Gailey had in Buffalo). You know the Bills tee shirt that says Collins&Flutie&Johnson&VanPelt&Losman&Holcomb, etc? How about Anderson&Skelton&Hall&Kolb&Lindley&Hoyer? It’s magnified over three years, but you get my point.
The cynic in me wants the Bills to hire Cards defensive coordinator Ray Horton if only because he was proud enough not to cut his braids when it was inferred he’d have a better shot of landing a head coaching gig if he “looked the part.” Silly, racist football. Not enough to be a Super Bowl winning athlete and assistant who just put together a strong defense in the desert. Gotta cut those braids, you know, because unorthodox hair choices don’t lead men.
Also for the record, the Bills hires post-Levy:
1) established defensive mastermind from NFL lineage
2) up-and-coming defensive coordinator
3) up-and-coming offensive coordinator
4) retread defensive-minded coach with one-winning season
5) retread offensive-minded coach with one-winning season
The problem illustrated by nearly all fired coaches is that none have failed with a star quarterback, unless you count Jay Cutler as a star (I’m a Cutler fan. The Bears had no one beyond Brandon Marshall at wide-out besides rookie Alshon Jeffery, who was hurt for 1/3 of the season). Whisenhunt has succeeded with Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner. The Buffalo Bills quite simply need that guy as they have for years and years. Smith has proven he can succeed with nearly anyone (went to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman and an elite defense), so perhaps he’s best in this instance but what if you found him an elite quarterback? What if it’s Aaron Murray or Mike Glennon or whomever else? Would Smith all of the sudden go from solid coach to Belichickian?
That’s why I lean toward Smith, but you can really go in any direction with the worry train? Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden are removed from the insane daily grind of football and even Joe Gibbs struggled when he returned (a guy who won without stellar QB play). We saw what happened with Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson in coaching jobs without quarterbacks: a whole bunch of nothing (in terms of the grand prize).
Buddy Nix sticking around? Fine, for now. Best case scenario, he identifies the diamond in what’s largely considered (not by me) to be a weak QB class. Worst case? He’s forced to choose a garbage monster QB because of the nutball hype and it’s reason to send in the Whale (See how I’ve given Doug Whaley a creative nickname to make him loom large).
Finally, let’s close with the elevation of Russ Brandon to Principal Everything, Footballer-in-chief. While admitting that this change may simply be cosmetic in that Brandon could’ve been pushing every button for longer than we know, I like his leadership acumen and think this announcement shows that the franchise knows its reputation; It’s an acknowledgment that they know the world needs to know a 94 year-old isn’t the end-all, be-all. And to those who are sharp-shooting Brandon saying they’ll use “Moneyball” tactics, stop it. It’s the same thing as the Sabres using video scouting (you know, how they landed Tyler Myers & Tyler Ennis). They won’t be evaluating players based only on metrics (which, by the way, is what Pro Football Focus and other sites use).