The Buffalo Bills acted quickly to fill their vacancy at defensive coordinator, announcing late Friday night they’ve hired former Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz.
The 47-year-old Schwartz replaces Mike Pettine, who agreed to become the Cleveland Browns’ head coach Thursday.
Buffalo also announced it has hired Todd Downing as quarterbacks coach.
Schwartz will enter his 21st season in the NFL and his ninth as a defensive coordinator when he directs the Bills’ defense in 2014. Before coaching the Lions from 2009-13, he was the Tennessee Titans’ defensive coordinator from 2001-08 under coach Jeff Fisher. During that time, Tennessee ranked in the top 10 in both rushing yards allowed (fifth, 103.5 per game) and third-down conversion rate (sixth, 36.1 percent) during his tenure.
“We are excited to add a talented and accomplished coordinator in Jim Schwartz to our staff,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said in a statement released by the team. “Schwartz has led aggressive and productive defensive units through his time in the NFL and we feel our defense will continue to improve under his leadership.”
Stopping the run will be a key priority for the Bills next season. While the team finished second in the NFL in both sacks and interceptions under Pettine, it finished just 28th against the run, and allowed an NFL-high 19 runs of 20 or more yards.
While he was in Tennessee, Schwartz’s defenses finished in the top 10 against the run in five of eight seasons, including No. 1 in 2003. The Titans finished in the top 10 in overall defense three times under Schwartz.
Schwartz compiled a record of 29-51 in five seasons as the Lions’ coach, making one playoff appearance in 2011. That year, Detroit recorded 34 takeaways and a franchise-record seven defensive touchdowns.
Schwartz’s background is in the 4-3 alignment. He and Lions defensive line coach Jim Washburn introduced the “Wide Nine” style of defense with Tennessee. In that alignment, the defensive ends line up outside the tight end in order to get better rush angles.
Under Pettine, the Bills ran a hybrid scheme out of a base 3-4 set.
With Schwartz calling most of the defensive plays, Detroit finished sixth in the NFL against the run in 2013, allowing 99.8 yards per game. The Lions finished just 28th in the league in sacks, however, with 33.
Detroit’s third-down defense was the best in the NFL last year, allowing opposing offenses to convert first downs just 30.3 percent of the time (64 of 211).
Schwartz got his start in the NFL as a college and pro scout from 1993-95 for the Cleveland Browns under coach Bill Belichick. He moved to the Baltimore Ravens as a defensive assistant in 1996 before joining Tennessee in the same role prior to the 1999 season.
Downing, 33, joined the Lions’ staff under Schwartz in 2009, first as an offensive quality control coach. He’s served as the Lions’ quarterbacks coach the past three years.
During that time, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford has become the franchise’s all-time leading passer, with 17,457 career yards.
“Todd Downing is a bright and energetic coach,” Marrone said in a statement. “He is familiar with our personnel at the quarterback position and he will play a key role in the development of all of the quarterbacks on the Bills’ roster.”
Downing worked with Bills backup quarterback Thad Lewis with the Lions, and also coached Buffalo starter EJ Manuel at the 2013 Senior Bowl.
Stafford threw for 10,005 yards over the 2011-12 seasons under Downing’s direction, the fourth-most passing yards in NFL history over a two-year span. He also set single-season franchise records for passing yards (5,038) and touchdowns (41) in 2011.
Downing entered the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings in 2003, and has also spent time on the staff of the St. Louis Rams.