Candidates to Replace Mike Pettine as Buffalo Bills Defensive Coordinator

Mike Pettine’s departure could be an opening for Wade Phillips to return to the Buffalo Bills. (Photo: Matthew Emmons — USA Today Sports)

BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot

Mike Pettine is the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Pettine deserved the opportunity to be a head coach after having success as the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. Football Outsiders said the Bills had the NFL’s fourth-best defense in 2013, and Pettine deserves his fair share of credit for the unit’s improvements.

Reflecting on the past, however, won’t help the Bills defense in 2014. Buffalo should immediately begin its search for a new defensive coordinator, which could potentially be accomplished by promoting from within or by finding an outside candidate.

Internal Candidates

Jim O’Neil: Linebackers coach Jim O’Neil may be Cleveland-bound too; Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News has reported that O’Neil will become Pettine’s defensive coordinator if let out of his contract from Buffalo. If that were to not come to fruition, O’Neil would be Buffalo’s top internal option.

The 2013 season was O’Neil’s fifth in the NFL, all of which have come under Pettine. He moved from defensive quality control coach to assistant defensive backs coach in New York before becoming the linebackers coach in Buffalo last season.

Some might not think O’Neil has the experience to be a defensive coordinator, but he has done a great job in every role he has made thus far. The promotion of O’Neil would ensure that Buffalo’s defensive principles do not change from 2013 to 2014.

Donnie Henderson: Henderson is another internal option with plenty of experience. Buffalo’s current defensive backs coach has been with seven total NFL teams in 10 seasons, while he has also worked in the UFL and collegiate ranks. From 2004-2006, Henderson was a defensive coordinator for the Jets (2004-05) and Detroit Lions (2006). The Jets ranked seventh in the NFL total defense under Henderson in 2004, and gave up only 172.2 passing yards per game, good for second in the NFL, in 2005.

Anthony Weaver: Buffalo’s defensive line coach did a great job in 2013, but only has two years of NFL coaching experience. He also earned seven years of NFL playing experience between the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans from 2002-08.

Outside Candidates

Wade Phillips: The former Bills head coach has been rather vocal about wanting to coach in 2014.

Phillips’ track record as a defensive coordinator speaks for itself. He didn’t leave on the best of terms when the Bills fired him from the head coaching gig in 2000, but he recently tweeted that he would be willing to return to any of his former coaching stops.

Rocky Seto: Seto is currently the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive passing game coordinator. There’s no lack of talent on Seattle’s defense, but Seto has done a great job of getting the most out of it.

Former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is a defensively-minded coach still on the job market. (Photo: Tim Fuller — USA Today Sports)

Jim Schwartz: Schwartz is a smart defensive football coach who spent the past five seasons as the Detroit Lions’ head coach, and was previously the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans from 2002-2008.

Schwartz’s defenses in Detroit never ranked better than they did in 2013, when they finished the year ranked 15th in points allowed per game and 16th in yards allowed per game. That said, Tennessee’s defense ranked in the top 12 in points allowed per game four times, and in the top half of the NFL in yards allowed per game five times during his seven years in Tennessee.

Jim Tomsula: To say Jim Tomsula has done a great job in five seasons as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive line coach is an understatement. According to the team’s official website, the 49ers have allowed a mere 3.64 yards per rushing attempt to rank second in the NFL during that span. With plenty of talent to work with on the Bills defense, the job may be appealing to him.


Tags: 2014 Offseason, Anthony Weaver, Coaches, Coaching Changes, Coaching Staff, Defensive Coordinator, Donnie Henderson, Jim O'Neil, Jim Schwartz, Jim Tomsula, Mike Pettine, Rocky Seto, Wade Phillips

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