BBD Editor: Dan Hope
On the NFL’s “Black Monday” for coaching changes, the Buffalo Bills made a change of their own when they announced during their end-of-year press conference Monday that wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard was “no longer with” the organization as wide receivers coach.
While it is uncertain whether the decision for Hilliard to depart was made in a firing by the team or by Hilliard himself, Bills head coach Doug Marrone said he and Hilliard had a “difference in philosophy,” according to Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News.
Like Marrone and the rest of his on-field coaching staff, as well as general manager Doug Whaley and team president Russ Brandon, Hilliard was in his first year with the Buffalo coaching staff. A former NFL wide receiver himself from 1997-2008, the 2013 season was Hilliard’s third as an NFL coach, after one-year stints with the Miami Dolphins as assistant wide receivers coach in 2011 and with the Washington Redskins as wide receivers coach in 2012.
While Hilliard might not have been the coach many Bills fans thought should have been shown the door after this season, his group underperformed in 2013. The Bills were one of only three teams in the NFL (New York Jets, St. Louis Rams) to have no wide receivers with more than 600 receiving yards this season, even though they had a receiver who had 1,000 receiving yards in each of his previous three seasons (Stevie Johnson) and three players selected on Day 2 of the previous two drafts (T.J. Graham in 2012, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin in 2013).
It might not be fair to put those players’ disappointing seasons on Hilliard, considering all of those players but Graham missed games due to injuries or off-field reasons, while the team’s passing offense suffered considerably from unstable quarterback play all season. Still, it did little to help Hilliard’s cause going into the offseason that Johnson had his worst season since 2010 while the young receivers failed to progress to expectations. While the hesitancy of quarterback EJ Manuel and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to open up the offense and throw downfield more played a part in limiting the opportunities those wide receivers had to make play, that hesitancy might have also been extended by the receivers’ inconsistent play and untimely drops.
While the focus of the Bills’ offensive development looking forward to 2014 will be focused largely around Manuel and the rebuilding of Buffalo’s offensive line, the team also needs its wide receivers, especially Johnson and Woods, to step up their game next season.