Who’s Next? A Breakdown of the Bills Head Coach Candidates

L to R: Mike McCoy, Ray Horton, Lovie Smith, Ken Whisenhunt

L to R: Mike McCoy, Ray Horton, Lovie Smith, Ken Whisenhunt

It’s been a busy week for newly appointed Bills president, Russ Brandon. He and the rest of the team’s top brass have set up camp in Arizona as they search for Buffalo’s next head coach. After dumping Chan Gailey and his entire staff earlier this week, it’s easy to see why Brandon is a little reluctant to jump at the first sign of someone being interested in the job. He knows that the team has more to offer this go around and he’s out there selling it hard. So who are the top candidates, you ask? Here they are.

Ken WisenhuntKen Whisenhunt: The recently fired head coach of the Cardinals led his team to its first Super Bowl, as well as, back to back NFC West titles in ‘08 and ’09. Unfortunately, those were his only winning seasons in 6 years with the Cards. But, he’s still the winningest coach in the team’s history with a record of 45-51, which is pretty bad. He’s an offensive minded coach and is widely regarded as one of the most intelligent of his kind in the NFL. His downside is that he’s not very adaptable. After Kurt Warner retired, so did Whisenhunt’s winning record. The team spiraled down, leading to his termination this week. Whisenhunt is also interviewing with the Browns.

Ray HortonRay Horton: As Whisenhunt’s Defensive Coordinator, Horton racked up pretty good numbers considering the atrocious offence Arizona has put on the field. This season, his defense actually led the NFL in interceptions and was in the top 10 in sacks, red zone defense and third down defense. He’s known to be a tough and passionate individual. He could bring a lot to the Bills as he’d be handed a defense with great talent but little organization. However, this would be his first head coaching position. He says he’s ready to make the jump. Cleveland is also looking at him, as well as Arizona, where he’s been the last 2 years. One glaring point to make on Horton is that he’s won Super Bowls. One was as a coach for the Steelers. The other was as a corner back on the ’92-’93 Cowboys team that clobbered the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII. He also played in Super Bowl XXIII for the Bengals.

Chip KellyChip Kelly: Here’s a guy who is going to make a splash in the NFL no matter where he ends up. For the last 4 years, he’s run a high-octane Oregon Ducks team that specializes in the no-huddle offense, similar to the Bills during the Jim Kelly era. His off-temp no-huddle offense runs plays in 10 seconds or less constantly and has the ability to score quickly. That offense puts up big numbers too. In his tenure, the team has averaged 480 yards and over 40 points per game. This season alone, the Ducks averaged 50 points per game, capping off their year with a 35-17 Fiesta Bowl beat-down of KansasState. Unlike Gailey, Kelly builds his offense based on what the opposition shows on defense. He is great at reading defenses and adjusting accordingly. That’s something the Bills have been lacking over the past 3 years. There’s no telling if Chip Kelly’s unconventional, fast paced offense will translate to the NFL or if Buffalo will be able to get him the right players to make it work, but I think it’s worth a shot. He may be coaching in what some say is a weak conference but, his 45-7 record and 4 straight BCS bowl games speak for themselves.

Lovie SmithLovie Smith: The beloved Bears head coach of the last 9 years has actually shown interest in the Bills now that he finds himself kicked to the curb by Chicago. Another defensive minded coach, Smith has built the Bears back into the brick wall that it used to be. In fact, this season his defense led the league in touchdowns and was a terror to opposing quarterbacks week after week. However, in the last 6 years, he’s only gotten them to the playoffs once. A big part of that was their lack of a franchise quarterback. In his 9 years with the Bears, he had 11 starting quarterbacks. They really thought Jay Cutler would be the man, but his injuries and bad attitude have proved he isn’t. That aside, Lovie Smith still holds a record of 81-63 and has won 3 NFC North titles. Despite going 10-6 this year, it’s likely that Smith was released because of his inability to win against the division rival Packers on a consistent basis. Losing to the Packers this season actually caused the tie-breaker that kept the Bears out of the playoffs. Big selling point: Smith took Chicago to Super Bowl XLI with Rex Grossman as his quarterback. That shows he can get it done with what he’s given. Another interesting note: Smith would be one of the only winning coaches to come to Buffalo over the past 10 years.


Mike McCoyMike McCoy:
As Denver’s offensive coordinator, McCoy won 8 games with Tim Tebow last year. That says more about him as a coach than any of his other numbers, although, they are impressive. Over his 4 years with the Broncos, McCoy also groomed Kyle Orton, who had a break out season in ’09 and helped Denver be the 7th best passing offense the following year. To further prove McCoy can make something out of nothing, he was instrumental in developing Jake Delhomme in Carolina who made the Pro Bowl in ’05 and threw for 89 touchdowns in 3 seasons with the Panthers. McCoy was finally rewarded with a good quarterback in Peyton Manning and is currently on a bye week heading into the playoffs after winning their division and finishing with the best record in the AFC. If we were to draft a rookie QB this year, McCoy would be the man to make him a starter. He’s never been a head coach but the potential to lead is definitely there.

Russ GrimmRuss Grimm: I’m not sure why the Bills are so interested in the entire coaching staff of the Cardinals after their multiple disastrous seasons but, they are. Grimm doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of Arizona’s staff. For starters, he’s a member of the Hall Of Fame. He has also won 4 Super Bowl rings. One was as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh and the other 3 as an offensive lineman with the Redskins. Grimm played for the ‘Skins when the beat the Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. Although he turned down a head coaching job in Buffalo in 2010, he’s back on the radar now. He’s been an offensive line coach for the past 21 years and played the position for 11. His concentration on one aspect of the game might make his a less than appealing candidate for a head coach position.

Others to look out for:

Hue Jackson: Defensive Backs/Special Teams-Cincinnati  Formerly- Head Coach-Oakland and Offensive Coordinator-Oakland, Atlanta, Washington.

Doug Marrone: Head Coach-Syracuse University  Formerly- Offensive Coordinator-New Orleans Offensive Line Coach-Jets

Andy Reid: The recently fired Head Coach of the Eagles, is reportedly in negotiations for the head coach position at Kansas City.

Honestly, any of these coaches (with the exception of Whisenhunt) would be a step up from the depressing regime of Chan Gailey. The Bills are looking at the right guys. They are trying to find a coach that makes the most out of what he is given. The biggest deal breakers for most of the candidates will be who they’d bring in as their coaching staff and who they’d start at QB. There is a real opportunity here to get a great head coach. Russ Brandon seems to be taking it very seriously as he undoubtedly knows how important this move is to the team and the fans.

– Josh Paufler

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