BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — At least for the moment, the jerseys and the colors will remain the same, but the Buffalo Bills will look completely different in the 2015 season.
The shakeup started not with the departure of a coach, but with the retirement of quarterback Kyle Orton, a decision which may have had a lot to do with the decisions to come. He decided to leave the team despite calls from then head coach Doug Marrone to reconsider.
STORY | Kyle Orton Retires from the NFL.
After that surprise, fans were shocked to learn about the departure of former head coach Doug Marrone, the former Syracuse University coach who righted the ship in Buffalo, bringing the team to a winning record for the first time in a decade.
That sparked a coaching hunt, leading the Buffalo Bills to interview 12 coaches. Rumors flew for who might emerge as a front runner, and many had their favorites.
But who Doug Whaley and his bosses, Terry and Kim Pegula, selected came as a shock to many fans.
STORY | Rex Ryan signs on as head coach.
They brought on Rex Ryan, a coach with a big name, active voice but a shaky record. That combination brought some back to the hiring of Chuck Knox in 1978, the last time a Buffalo Bills head coach was hired with a big name. Some immediately cast their dissent, like Marv Levy, the retired Buffalo Bills head coach with the most wins in team history.
He said he was disappointed, as he was rooting for his former player, Frank Reich, to emerge as a front runner. He thought he’d be positive for the Bills in the face of their quarterback situation.
“I was pulling for Frank Reich,” Levy said. “I think he’s been a tremendous teacher. Yes he’s only been an assistant, but there are plenty of guys who’ve only been an assistant.”
As soon as the new head coach was selected, the team moved forward with the need to find an offensive coordinator. They quickly moved to hire one of the coaches they interviewed for the head coaching position, Greg Roman.
Roman and Ryan are expected to pair well, as they share a run-first philosophy. When the decision was made, all looked like it could settle down for Buffalo, if not for the loss of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The day Ryan arrived in Buffalo, he announced that Schwartz would not stay with the team. He and the Bills ended Schwartz’s contract to allow him to pursue other opportunities.
Ryan and his new team moved swiftly to replace Schwartz. He brought in a former coach from his tenure at the New York Jets, Dennis Thurman. Their matching is considered to be natural, and beneficial to the Bills’ defense.
That leaves the shakeup saga still open for Buffalo, for not just lower-tier coaching positions which will be quickly shored up, but for the reorganizational process that will define Ryan’s success.
Ryan said he was confident in the future of the Buffalo team, despite the large coaching staff switch, and the lack of a proven quarterback, and others have begun supporting the new vision of the Buffalo Bills.
“I am very excited about the hiring of Rex Ryan not only because of his coaching ability but also because of how he works with players and how players work for and respect him,” Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly said. “He now has very talented players to go with the enthusiasm he brings to the locker room.”
Critics of the Ryan decision noted his failures as a defensive-minded coach to focus in on his offense and make it work. Kelly said it’s an opportunity for him to prove himself.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what he does on the offensive side of the ball,” Kelly said. “I’m also excited about Rex Ryan’s determination to bring winning football back to the Ralph, to the amazing Bills fans and to the great city and people of Buffalo!”