Potential Buffalo Bills Head Coach Replacements

If the Bills fire Chan Gailey, could Chip Kelly be his replacement? (Phoot: US Presswire)

By BBD Editor: Mike Watkins

The last time the Bills tried to fill it’s coaching vacancy it did not go well at all. It was a tough spot to fill because of uncertainty across the board as well as a roster that was not filled with a whole lot of NFL talent. This time around though the Bills’ job is a little more attractive because the talent level on the roster has been increased. However, some of the big red flags also remain, including ownership of the team. While it’s not a definite that the Bills will relieve Chan Gailey of his position, we like to be prepared. Here’s a quick look at some of the positives and negatives to becoming the head coach of the Buffalo Bill.

Reason to coach the Bills:

-1 of only 32 Jobs-Roster does have some talent. An explosive RB in Spiller heading into his prime along with a good RB behind him in Jackson, good WR in S. Johnson, solid starting OL, DL with talent across it, developing shut down CB in Gilmore, and one of the best safeties in the league in Byrd-Not handcuffed to a QB-No big city media-College atmosphere on Game Day

Reason for Candidates to pass:

-No franchise QB-Unsettled ownership-GM position close to retirement if retained-Possible relocation scenario-Frustrated media and fan base with the 13-year playoff drought-Key upcoming free agents still unsigned in Levitre and Byrd-Notoriously cheap with coaches and their staffsWith that in mind let’s take a look at a few of the candidates that could be on the list to fill the position.


Chip Kelly, HC, Oregon: One of the hottest names out on the market the past two years and with good reason. Kelly has built Oregon into a national powerhouse in his time there with his calling card being the most exciting and explosive offense in college football. Kelly actually has a good grasp of what the Bills have in terms of players and talent because he paid them a visit during this past summer. Kelly is a very boom or bust candidate because while he has been successful in all his stops he has no experience on the NFL level and many wonder if his offense can be molded to fit and work on the NFL level. I’m sure he would be intrigued given the Bills have an explosive player in Spiller, a good OL, and he wouldn’t be forced to use a current QB.

Bills Chances: Long shot at best, likely looking for a more stable franchise

Davis Shaw, HC, Stanford: Shaw of all the college coaches mentioned may be the best suited for a job on the NFL level and it’s not because he coached under Jim Harbaugh who himself has had great success in a short period of time, though that doesn’t hurt his case by any means. Shaw spent 9 years in the NFL on both the Raiders and Ravens staffs before going to Stanford to become their OC. He has since had very good success as an OC for 4 years and then for the past two years as the HC at Stanford. Shaw is a respected offensive mind in coaching circles and knows a good defense is also essential to winning games. One big problem is Shaw currently has his dream job. He played college ball there and is said to be exactly where he wants to be on a professional level

Bills Chances: Very slim, I’m told that while Chip Kelly is the hot media name D. Shaw is actually the name most NFL teams are interested in from the college ranks. That said there will be much more attractive jobs at his disposal.

Brian Kelly, HC, Notre Dame: It will be really surprising if he decided to leave Notre Dame even if he does win a national title. He’s a very detailed coach who understands the importance of both sides of the ball. He has been a winner wherever he has gone and has turned teams around quickly. However, Notre Dame is about as high profile a job as you can get on the college level and prying him away from there would take a lot.

Bills Chances: Zero, it would take a lot for him to leave Notre Dame and it wouldn’t be for Buffalo.

Jim Tressel, Former HC of Ohio State: This is a name you don’t see a lot of because he has been out of football for a while now. Tressel was responsible for keeping Ohio State playing at a very high level for over a decade and is well respected in coaching circles. He is a very detailed oriented coach who knows how to run a team from practice to the field. He understands that defense and a balanced offense is what wins football games and because of this has always been thought of as a good candidate on the NFL level. He came close to landing the Colts job last year.

Bills Chances: Good, I imagine that he would be open to most openings on the NFL level.

Les Miles, HC, LSU: He has a couple years of experience on the NFL level as a position coach but outside of that it’s been all college. Him leaving LSU is close to zero after just signing an extension after some flirting with Arkansas. They were obviously used as leverage because Miles turned down his dream job at Michigan to stay at LSU, a place that he loves now. Plus the whole mad hatter routine would have a short shelf life in the NFL.

Bills Chances: Zero

Bill O’Brien, HC, Penn State: I can’t imagine he would leave one year after preaching team and loyalty in the aftermath of the very public events the University and its football team went through. 2 years from now though, expect his name to be near or at the top of a lot of NFL teams wish lists.

Bills Chances: Zero, he won’t leave PSU for at least another couple of years.

Bo Pelini, HC, Nebraska: Pelini has done a great job at Nebraska since he took over in 2008 and returned them back to national relevance. He has 9 years experience in the NFL on the defensive side of the ball with the Patriots, Packers, and 49ers. He runs a 2-gap scheme at Nebraska that is sometimes criticized for being too complex for a college program but would be a good fit on the NFL level. Now what would work against Pelini is he has an explosive temperament that works on the college level but wont fly for long on the NFL level.

Bills Chances: 50/50, The Bills already have a lot of what he needs to run his defense, but I don’t think Pelini is too interested in the NFL at this point.

Kirk Ferentz, HC, Iowa: It has almost become an off-season tradition that when head coaches get fired around the league Ferentz’s name is almost always brought up. There is a reason his name keeps popping up because he has a ton of HC’ing experience at Iowa over 13 years. He also has NFL experience as an OL coach in Baltimore and under Bill Belichick.

Bills Chances: 50/50, he could be on there radar, but it’s still up in the air if he will leave Iowa this year or ever for that matter. He has also been rumored to prefer a smaller NFL city with a College vibe if he does leave. That’s Buffalo in a nutshell.

Doug Marrone, HC, Syracuse: Marrone is starting to get some attention because he has started to turn around a once thought dead Syracuse football program by running an NFL type offense. He has experience in the NFL as an OL coach for the Jets and in New Orleans as an OC. He should get some mentions for jobs but the rumor is he is staying at Syracuse for now.

Bills Chances: less than 50/50, he seems to be happy at Syracuse for the moment but moving just down the road could appeal to him.

NFL Options
Jon Gruden, TV Analyst and former HC of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bills chased Gruden before, and he wasn’t interested. This time around it may be a little different given the Bills have added talent to the roster. Question is how much authority does he want? Rumor has it he doesn’t want the total GM duties but wants at least half of them. I don’t think that will fly in Buffalo and his contract demands may be too rich for Buffalo. It’s a long shot but not completely impossible.

Bills Chances: Slim at best.

Bill Cowher, TV Analyst and former HC of the Pittsburgh Stealers: Honestly, most everyone knows the deal with Cowher and in my opinion it’s a waste of bandwidth and breath to even discuss the possibility of him coming to Buffalo.

Bills Chances: ZERO, there is a better shot at me becoming king of the world tomorrow.

Andy Reid, HC, Philadelphia Eagles: Most people reading this know who Reid is and know what his track record is. Outside of the last couple seasons Reid has given the Eagles a long sustained run of success. Reid also has shown that he does have an eye for QB talent as he has had countless names run his offense with varying degrees of success; some to the point where he was able to fleece a high draft pick from another team for his back up QB’s. That said after the tragic loss of his son the consensus is he will be taking a year off and I don’t think anyone would blame him. He could do a little TV and then come back a year from now and likely name his price and team.

Bills Chances: Zero

Mike Holmgren, Former Coach and GM: Holmgren has a very impressive track record with a Super Bowl ring to his credit along with being able to get two different franchises to the Super Bowl. A lot of teams will be chasing him now that the Browns have let him go. Its still not known whether he actually wants back down on the sideline or not. If he does he will likely want the dual role of GM and Coach.

Bill Chances: Slim to none

Sean Payton, HC, New Orleans Saints: To be short about it, it’s either Dallas or New Orleans for him.

Bills Chances: ZERO, Keep Dreaming.

Perry Fewell, DC, New York Giants: Bills fans should remember this name from the Jauron days. In hindsight the Bills should have given him more of a shot at keeping the job, but it was a case of wrong place, wrong time for Fewell. I’ll be shocked if he would even consider Buffalo and also if Buffalo would even consider interviewing.

Bills Chances: Close to zero, Can’t imagine he would come back.

Marty Mornhinweg, OC, Philadelphia Eagles: Mornhinweg is a name that is gaining more and more steam as the years go by. His name was tainted after leaving Detroit, but to be honest whose name wasn’t during the Millen years? He is a great X’s and O’s guy that players love to play for. He has had enough time away to understand the mistakes he made and the second time around he could be much better.

Bills Chances: Better than 50/50, he could be pretty high up on the Bills list.

Rob Ryan, DC, Dallas Cowboys: I have no idea why Rob Ryan’s name will pop up from time to time as a HC candidate. He has really done nothing to warrant that type of consideration. I personally would stay away from him but sadly this is the type of coach that the Bills interview on a regular basis to captain the ship on Sundays.

Bills Chances: Really good if they actually offer it to him.

Ray Horton, DC, Arizona Cardinals: Horton has been around awhile in coaching circles and has worked under some of the best coaches in the league. The most notable name he has worked under and seems to have been influenced the most by is Steelers DC, Dick LeBeau. He is a fiery coach who is very detailed and methodical in his approach. Horton should be high up on a lot of teams list looking for a first time HC and a fresh start.

Bills Chances: 50/50, I think Horton will be a hot name in interviews.

Bruce Arians, OC, Indianapolis Colts: Arians has been around the NFL a very long time and is a well-respected position coach who never really sought the lime light of a head-coaching gig. Still teams are taking notice of the job he is doing with the Colts and you can expect multiple teams to come calling.

Bills Chances: Low, I really don’t see him being interested in being a HC at all let alone in Buffalo.

Gus Bradley, DC, Seattle Seahawks: Bradley spent a good amount of time under M.Kiffin in Tampa and was the only coach that P.Carroll kept when he was hired in 2010. He has a very good understanding of defense and is working under one of the better motivators in the game. It has been said that the Seattle would like him to eventually replace Carroll when he decides to leave, but he may not wait that long.

Bills Chances: Better than 50/50, I imagine he would look at the defense the Bills have and think he is only a step or two away from running his scheme.

Butch Davis, Special Asst, Tampa Bay: Say what you want about Butch Davis’ methods, but there is no denying the guy has an eye for talent and experience on the NFL level. He turned a Miami program into a powerhouse, went to Cleveland to take over an expansion team and got them to the playoffs in 3 years with very mediocre at best QB play, and then went to North Carolina and turned it into a pipeline for NFL talent. Davis is also known for being able to assemble very talented staffs. He has a recent recruiting stain on him, but look for his name to be a dark horse in some openings

Bills Chances: I’d say good if they bring him in for an interview and decide if his baggage is worth the risk.

Mike Zimmer, DC, Bengals: Zimmer is an interesting case, when looking at his track record most would scratch their head and wonder why he has never been given a shot as a HC. Zimmer is a very good defensive mind and his players love him. Despite that, he is known to have a bit of an abrasive personality that won’t play well to the media and is becoming increasingly rare in the NFL today due to its short shelf life. To be blunt about it, Zimmer speaks his mind with little regard to what his statements might do. Now that may seem like a “who cares?” but it can become a constant distraction to teams that eventually bleeds into the locker room. Take a look at the Jets for example.

Bills Chances: Really good, I think he will take the first job that gets offered and I think he’ll be really interested in the job based largely on the talent along the Bills DL.

Jim Haslett, DC, Washington Redskins: Every time the Bills’ job comes up Haslett’s name once again resurfaces in Western NY. He has been in the NFL now as a DC or HC since 1996. He had some success down in New Orleans when it was thought no one could win in New Orleans. However, he rarely gets any offers outside of DC gigs. Most of that is due to the fact that his units have been mostly average since being a DC with the Rams and Redskins.

Bills Chances: Really good if they want him, the Bills have been down this road before, and it’s pretty clear they just don’t have any interest in him.

Vic Fangio, DC, San Francisco 49ers: Fangio has been a DC in the NFL since ’95 and was considered D.Capers’ right hand man for a lot of those years. He has had some up and down success over that time until the most recent two years with the 49ers where he has been lights out. He knows the defensive side of the ball very well and seems content being a DC in the NFL as most consider him not a great candidate for a HC position.

Bills Chances: 50/50 if he even decides to interview.

Mike McCoy, OC, Broncos: McCoy is one of the fastest rising names in the NFL coaching ranks. What makes him an attractive option is the way he has been able to fit and adjust his offense to what he has. He has been able to have offensive success with three different QB’s (Orton, Tebow, Manning) all while still keeping a strong emphasis on the running game. The fact that he got the Manning stamp of approval and was cited as a main reason he chose Denver only helps his case in the long run.

Bills Chances: I’d say 50/50, he will be a hot name, but the fact that the Bills have two very good RB’s, a good WR in S.Johnson and a good OL could appeal to him.

Kyle Shanahan, OC, Washington Redskins: The son of Mike Shanahan has been around awhile in both Denver with his father, then in Houston under his father’s former OC Gary Kubiak, and then back to his father’s staff in Washington. Shanahan is a name that keeps getting tossed around, but he has a problem in that most think his father has carried him through his career. Most where not sad to see him go in Houston and he has been average until the Skins drafted RGIII.

Bills Chances: 50/50, I don’t even think he will be on the Bills radar after getting shunned by his father.

Jay Gruden, OC, Cincinnati Bengals: Jay is the brother of Jon Gruden and is an interesting case for a HC gig. Last year he interviewed for a number of teams and eventually turned down a second interview with the Colts to sign a three-year extension with the Bengals because, in his own words, he wasn’t ready to be a HC. After this year he may be ready to change his mind because the window doesn’t stay open forever, and he is still on the list of names teams will consider. He has a track record of trying to run a balanced offense and has done it using a young QB. That would be appealing to a team looking to start over from scratch.

Bills Chances: 50/50, the Bills tried for his brother and failed but may be willing to take a shot on him.

Greg Olsen, QB Coach, Jacksonville: Olsen has been in the league for 12 years and has spent 6 of them as a coordinator. His most recent OC gig was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was let go from that job after the staff overhaul. He is widely respected by players, coaches, and front offices around the NFL. They like him because he is detailed oriented, and he works really well with young players. His offenses are very balanced but inconsistent.

Bills Chances: Good, he’s a QB coach now, but he’ll be high on the list of GM’s for OC gigs if he doesn’t land a HC job.

Dom Capers, DC, Green Bay: Capers has tons of coaching experience both at the HC level and DC level. He is regarded as one of the best defensive minds in the game. His past HC jobs consisted of two expansion teams, first with the Carolina Panthers and then with the Houston Texans. He had a little success but was then pigeonholed around the league as a great defensive mind that couldn’t cut it as a HC. Now that enough time has past he is once again a name that pops up

Bills Chances: 50/50 or better, he’s from the old school and Nix I imagine will like him but won’t like bringing back a 3-4 defense.

Hue Jackson, DB coach, Cincinnati Bengals: He’s on the defensive side of the ball now for the Bengals, but Jackson is a highly regarded offensive mind who has been around coaching and the NFL for a long time, 25 years total and 11 of those in the NFL. He got screwed out of the Raiders’ job last year after talking them to within 1 game of the playoffs. What he was able to do with the Raiders offense in a short amount of time and the team overall is impressive. He is a young and energetic coach who deserves another shot at a HC job.

Bills Chances: 50/50, I think he may be wary of joining another team that has become Raider-esque as of late. The uncertain ownership of the team I imagine is a big turn off being he has already been screwed over by that once before.

Who do I think will be on Nix’s short list?
Nix is from the old school and I imagine he is going to want to use that same approach when looking at new HC’s if he is in fact still in charge. I think the guys that will be high on his list are Mike Zimmer, Butch Davis, and Dom Capers.

All of them have been around coaching long enough to know the ins and outs of it and will likely have similar ideas on how to build the roster and team moving forward. Of course it’s going to be hard to tell what Nix is thinking when it comes to a replacement because during the last coaching search he pulled a name completely out of left field that no one anywhere was expecting.

Looking over them and why I think Nix would be interested in each name: First with Zimmer, I think Nix will not like the fact that he hasn’t been a HC because he is big on track record but he can’t ignore the time spent in the NFL nor what he has done with the Bengals’ defense. Looking at what the Bills have on that side of the ball he would be able to turn the defense around in a relative quick manner. I imagine whom he could bring in, as his offensive coordinator, will also have a big impact on his candidacy.

Butch Davis has that old school mentality and it’s no secret Nix likes players from Davis’ days at North Carolina. He is often linked to visits there and interest in their players. Davis has the HC experience from a previous stop in Cleveland and has been around the block in other places.

Dom Capers is the dark horse in all of this. All the old school GM’s like him a lot. He ran both his teams in an old school fashion to varying degrees of success. The main issue with Capers is he is a 3-4 guy through and through and I’m not sure Nix will be too keen on that. Capers has been around a long time and I’m sure for the most part shares a good amount of the same philosophies as Nix which will, despite the 3-4, make him a strong candidate with Nix.

Who do I think will be on Doug Whaley’s short list?
There is a possibility that either Whaley will be picking this coach as a GM or have some serious input given that he is looked at as the successor to Nix. Whaley is from the Steelers organization that is well known for having a great eye for coaches. They also like to stay in house for the most part on their decisions when it comes to coaches.

Whaley I imagine would like a younger coach who he can help build a team with him for the long run. The first obvious choice would be Ray Horton. He has the Steeler background and is a young up and coming coach who could assemble a good staff. He will likely be high on a lot of teams list but the Steeler connection with Whaley may be very appealing to him.

Next up I think would be Hugh Jackson from the Raiders. At just 47 years old he has the experience and has the drive to be great. He was well respected before the Raiders’ job and is now even more respected after the fact, given what he was able to do.

I also think he’ll take a run at Mike McCoy from Denver. Again both are young and everyone took note of the fact that he beat Whaley’s former employer, the Steelers, with a FB masquerading as a QB in Tim Tebow. McCoy like the others on this short list would have a good feel for the good young coaches in the NFL to fill out his staff

My thoughts on which coaches I would have on my short list:
The majority of Bills’ fans that you talk to want the experienced proven coach with a ring. The Bills chased this type of coach the last time they had an opening. At that point the Bills had sunk to far down as a franchise and were turned away by every one of them in what was a public embarrassment for the franchise.

I will say that I am likely in the minority when I want the young up and coming coach that has never held the position of HC. Some will immediately disregard the idea and I used to be one of those people. The reality is none of those guys are coming to Buffalo and I’m not sure I want them to. There is a reason no head coach has ever won a ring with two different teams and it’s mostly because once you have been to the top of the hill it’s harder to have the drive to go back with a different team.

All these great coaches started out as an up and comer at some point in their career by a team taking a chance on them. I think this is exactly what Buffalo needs. It needs a coach that is completely driven to turn this thing around and prove himself so he can get that ring and the respect he desires. The Bills need a coach that will set roots up in Buffalo and make the city his own as Cowher did in Pittsburgh and Payton did in New Orleans. This is the type of coach that in my opinion Buffalo needs to get back into the playoffs.

When trying to identify this type of coach I think it’s important to look at personality as much if not more than track record. Yes, the track record is important but when you are a head coach and you are paying attention to one side of the ball more than the other this will more often than not lead to more losses than wins over time. The Bills need to be looking for a leader of men. One who knows how to get the most out of his players regardless of what side of the ball they play on. He needs to be a tactician of game situations and have an understanding of the ebb and flow of a game as it happens. In game adjustments to that ebb and flow have become critical in today’s NFL. Those who do it well succeed far more than those who do not.

He also needs to have his feel about what is going on and around the NFL to be able to identify a good coaching staff. Being able to assemble a coaching staff is one of the most important aspects of being a head coach. You can’t be everywhere and you have to be able to put people in charge who know how to coach the game. The greatest coaches in this league all have one thing in common; they could easily identify other good coaches and convince them to join their staff.So with all that said here is who would be on my short list:

1. Hue Jackson: Jackson is a young brash coach who has just enough confidence to not be called arrogant. At just 47 years old Jackson has a ton of NFL experience and has made enough stops along the way to know where the good young coaches are in this league. He has experience developing young QB’s and has spent enough time on teams where the focal point was defense to know it’s not all about offense. He had a year at Oakland and did a lot with a little in a very tough circumstance. If I were Buffalo he would be first on my list

2. David Shaw: Shaw is the only candidate I would consider from the college ranks. Is it a long shot? Absolutely, but I think its one worth taking. Shaw is a detailed oriented guy who knows what makes players tick. He also has an outstanding knowledge of in game strategy along with a great understanding of X’S and O’s. He was well schooled by Harbaugh to know the importance of both sides of the ball as well as to playing with your strengths and overcoming/minimizing your own team’s weaknesses. I think it’s worth a trip up to Stanford for the Bills brass to make their case with a big check in their hand.

3. Ray Horton: Horton is another coach who has been around the NFL as a player and a coach for a long time. He has coached under some of the best in the league, namely Dick LeBeau. He is a brash, outspoken, unapologetic coach who has the respect of his players that he gets the most out of. He has now seen first hand in Arizona what the difference in between not having a QB and having a QB can do to a franchise. In light of that, he is likely to make it priority number 1. The biggest plus about Horton is he also spent a lot of time under two very good HC’s in Tomlin and Cowher, both of whom fit the distinction of leader of men to a T.

4. Mike McCoy: Any coach that adapts his offense to his players is going to be high on my list. Coaches far too often keep trying to force their offense and philosophies whether they have the personnel to make it work correctly or not. McCoy on multiple occasions has proven that he knows how to and will adapt his scheme to fit his players and still have success. That is usually a great indicator of a good coach. The big reason I have McCoy 4 on my list and not higher as the media does is because of his limited time around the NFL. He has only coached with two teams and all under the same HC in John Fox. It’s because of that I tend to question his ability to put together a top-notch staff.

Others I wouldn’t have an issue with: Mike Zimmer, Gus Bradley.

Tags: Buffalo Bills

5 Responses to “Potential Buffalo Bills Head Coach Replacements”

  1. Sean says:

    Nice list but missing mcdaniels from new england. He will be on alot of lists. Failed in denver but wore two many hats. Bright and agressive and may have learned from mistakes. Not sure he would take job in division ala mangini and would want own gm

  2. Alan says:

    McDaniels? No thanks. As a head coach he would still have to make a lot of judgment calls in building his staff, and he showed terrible judgment in Denver. I don’t know that one failed stint as a head coach is enough to enable him to fix the judgement issue. He’s a great offensive coach, but then having Tom Brady to work with can make you look real good too.

    I don’t want Dom Capers because he’s married to the 3-4 I don’t want the Bills to have to go through the transition in defensive schemes again. Otherwise, I think I could live with any head coach on Nix’s, Whaley’s, or the author’s short lists.

  3. Frank Rojek says:

    Great analysis. I like either Jackson or Zimmer. But will the Bills fire Gailey is the real question. If they could buy him out at a reasonable price then a new coach is a go.

  4. Jeff Gilhooly says:

    Interesting to speculate but I don’t think it’ll happen. I think they’ll stay with Gailey and Fitz for another year and continue to build talent in other badly needed spots… we need (not necessarily in this order) a deep threat or red zone WR – a top rate three down linebacker to replace an aging Barnett – more depth at guard/centre as I’m worried Wood won’t recover – and for all we’ve invested in our secondary we need help esp if we cannot sign Jarius Byrd (that will tough as he’s having a pro bowl year) Stay the course – build the team and maybe trade up next year for a QB when the overall class is better.

  5. Willard morse says:

    In order to sign a deep threat we need a qb that could throw the deep ball just my .02

  • Categories

  • Search BBD Archives

  • Archives