Bill’s job might be a tough sell

DFN: I wonder if I should throw my had in the wring?

Bills’ job might be tough sell

By Mark Gaughan
Updated: November 20, 2009, 9:50 PM

Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. will face a challenge to sell his head-coaching opening to a mega-coach with Super Bowl rings on his fingers such as Mike Shanahan or Bill Cowher.

It’s not an impossible challenge, but it will not be simple, either.

The Bills’ organization is mired in a 10-year slump without a playoff appearance.

The Bills are a small-market team in a league that is on the brink of going to a free-spending era without a salary cap. The Bills have a history of staying within a strict budget.

And the Bills are missing the key piece of a winning puzzle — a proven quarterback.

The Bills are expected to target Shanahan first and hold a meeting with him in the coming weeks as they search for a coach to replace Dick Jauron.

It will take a strong selling job for any team to attract one of the heavy-hitting coaches currently out of work. Whether it’s Shanahan, Cowher, Mike Holmgren or Jon Gruden, they don’t necessarily need to come back to coaching. And when they do, they want to have a strong chance of success. In the cases of Shanahan, Cowher or Holmgren, their next NFL job probably would be their last. They would want to go out in a blaze of glory.

Shanahan has a career record of 154-103 counting playoffs. He won two Super Bowls and had nine winning seasons in 14 years at Denver. One more successful head coaching tenure on his resume could guarantee his bust in the Hall of Fame.

The Bills’ interest in considering an elite coach is a sign the team is willing to spend big money.

Nevertheless, the Bills have strictly adhered to a fiscally responsible spending plan almost every year this decade. Even in 2007 when they signed offensive linemen to $75 million worth of total contracts, they only spent cash over the cap by a little. (Meaning they spent just a tad more in real dollars than the salary cap total for that year.) They have been judicious about adding depth during the season, too, including last year when they had linebacker injuries and this year when they’ve had offensive line injuries.

So a Super Bowl-winning coach is going to have to be convinced that will change. The competition for the top players in free agency probably will be tougher in the future. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has acknowledged that there is a good chance the 2010 season will be played without a salary cap, although there still is a chance of a deal that would keep the cap before the 2010 fiscal year begins. Big-market teams could have more of an edge in spending than in past years.

Over the years, Wilson has had a say in most major decisions the team has faced. An elite coach will want total power and autonomy and probably will want to be answerable to just one person — Wilson. That presumably won’t be a problem, but it would require Wilson to take somewhat of a step back.

Overall, the Bills could make the case the head coach here is in a low-maintenance situation compared with some other teams.

Wilson and the Bills undoubtedly have some positives to sell. The franchise is on strong financial footing and has no debt load on the team or the stadium, so the case could be made that the needed cash will be made available.

A pretty good case also can be made that the team is not in a total rebuild mode. The Bills have promising young players — at every defensive secondary position and at running back, in receiver Lee Evans and linebacker Paul Posluszny, and in the middle of the offensive line.

How many players are the Bills away from playoff contention? It’s debatable. Perhaps one offensive tackle, one or two defensive linemen, an outside linebacker and a quarterback.

Of course, the quarterback is the big challenge. It’s like saying you have a good car that is missing only an engine.

Chances are, every losing team looking for a new coach this year has a similar void at quarterback and as many or more questions on the roster.

Two teams that are expected to be looking for a coach after the season are Washington and Oakland. Cleveland is another possibility. And there usually is a surprise opening or two.

Then there is Dallas. If Cowboys coach Wade Phillips doesn’t win a playoff game this year, he could be gone. Any of the mega-coaches may want to wait to see if the Dallas job opens up. Dallas is the richest team in the league. It has a roster loaded with talent. It has a proven quarterback in Tony Romo.

Future success is all teed up in Dallas. It will take persuasiveness to make it seem so in Buffalo.



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