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Bills coaching search revisited: Enough stones overturned?

By Tim Graham

On Jan. 1, the day the Buffalo Bills announced he would take over as team president, Russ Brandon declared twice he would "leave no stone unturned" in resurrecting the franchise.

Six days later, Brandon triumphantly declared he had kept his "promise to leave no stone unturned" while introducing Doug Marrone as the Bills' next head coach.

Now that all eight of the NFL coaching jobs have been filled, it's worth reviewing the process -- Brandon called it "exhilarating" -- to see how diligent the Bills were in their search.

Of the NFL's seven other new head coaches, the Bills interviewed one of them. They spoke with Oregon Ducks coach Chip Kelly, eventually hired by the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Bills did not meet any of the rest, nearly a fifth of the league's current coaches: Bruce Arians (Arizona Cardinals), Gus Bradley (Jacksonville Jaguars), Rob Chudzinski (Cleveland Browns), Mike McCoy (San Diego Chargers), Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs) and Marc Trestman (Chicago Bears).

The Bills didn't interview any assistants or coordinators from the 12 teams that made the playoffs.

The same day Brandon was promoted to president, he and a front-office contingent that included General Manager Buddy Nix, assistant general manager Doug Whaley and football administration vice president Jim Overdorf jetted to Phoenix for interviews.

There, they interviewed former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, former Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, Kelly and Marrone.

The order of the interviews remains unclear. The Bills confirmed to reporters and announced on their website Marrone interviewed on Jan. 4. But a followup story on revealed the team interviewed Marrone two days earlier.

At Marrone's introductory news conference, Nix said the Bills didn't interview any playoff assistants because they knew Marrone was the right candidate immediately. CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora reported the Bills had begun contract talks with Whisenhunt before switching to Marrone.

"We knew the guy we wanted when we interviewed him, and there he is," Nix said. "So why go any further?"

La Canfora's report about the Bills' pursuit of Whisenhunt aside, if the Bills did interview Marrone on Jan. 2, then they still sat down with Kelly and Smith afterward, undercutting Nix's claim.

No matter the scenario, the Bills didn't look under any rocks outside of Arizona. A scheduled interview with McCoy in Denver was canceled.

Where the Bills deserve credit is they interviewed two black candidates, Horton and Smith.

Many in the NFL community are disappointed that of the eight head coaches and six general managers hired since the season ended, none were minorities. Under the so-called Rooney Rule, teams must interview at least one minority candidate for a head coach or GM vacancy. Many clubs go through the motions to fulfill that requirement. The Bills apparently did not.

But did the Bills search as widely and deeply as they proclaimed they would?

Of course not.

So why did the Bills expedite their search when they emphasized being comprehensive?

Maybe they were out-leveraged by a college coach with a .500 record and jumped because they believed other teams were on the verge of hiring him. Or perhaps -- as Bills fans should hope -- Marrone really did knock their argyles off in Arizona.

"There was no question our coach was a leading candidate in more than a few organizations," Brandon said when they introduced Marrone.

"Leading candidate" is a big label. "More than a few" suggests an impressive number.

To press the Bills into a deal, maybe that's what Marrone's agent, Jimmy Sexton, led Brandon to believe -- just like the Bills were led to believe Marrone came with Bill Parcells' personal stamp of approval. National media reports espoused a Parcells-Marrone link. Some claimed Marrone comes from the Parcells coaching tree.

The Bills tried to get comments from Parcells for their Marrone publicity packet, but Parcells declined because they never worked together. Google Parcells and Marrone and you won't find any comments from Parcells about him over the years.

But Marrone and Parcells do have the same agent. And Sexton works for an agency that represents prominent members of the national media.

For the record, I'm neutral on Marrone as Buffalo's next head coach. As I've stated many times in this space, on Twitter and on the radio, Marrone is a quintessential wait-and-see choice. I'm not going to pretend to tell you how great or lousy he's going to be.

But the marketing of the Bills' hiring process has been disingenuous. Anyone who actually believes the Bills left no stone unturned in their coaching search must be living under a rock.

I'd feel much better about the Bills picking the right man for the job if they'd spoken to more coaches about their opening and then decided who the correct choice should be.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |