When Rex Ryan was introduced as the Buffalo Bills’ new head coach on Jan. 14, 2015, he gave one of his most glowing compliments to an assistant coach he was keeping from the previous staff: Donnie Henderson.
Ryan and Henderson had worked together from 2000 to 2003, when Ryan was defensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens and Henderson was their defensive backs coach, his same role with the Bills since 2013.
“One of the finest coaches I’ve ever been around,” Ryan said of Henderson at the grand news conference at One Bills Drive.
But after a year of working together in Buffalo, Henderson and Ryan are parting ways.
The Bills announced Tuesday that Henderson and special-teams quality control coach Michael Hamlin “will not be returning to the team’s coaching staff.” No reason was given for the departures in a two-paragraph press release.
When contacted by The Buffalo News earlier Tuesday, Henderson would not elaborate on why he was leaving. He did confirm a report from Alex Marvez of Fox Sports that he has interviewed with the Indianapolis Colts for their defensive backs coach vacancy.
In a post on his Twitter account, Marvez, citing a source, said defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman was now expected to work more with the Bills’ defensive backs while Ryan and his twin brother, Rob, hired Sunday as assistant head coach/defense, would oversee the entire defense.
The Bills also have Tim McDonald listed on their staff as a defensive backs coach.
Henderson is credited for helping rookie cornerback Ronald Darby, a second-round draft pick, quickly rebound from a poor preseason to start immediately and become one of the league’s top players at his position. Henderson also played a significant role in helping Stephon Gilmore, a first-round choice in 2012, have the best season of his career in 2015 before suffering a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the final two games.
Under Henderson’s watch, the Bills also got solid play from reserve members of their secondary: cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin, Mario Butler, Ron Brooks, and Nickell Robey, and safeties Bacarri Rambo and Duke Williams. That was particularly important after starting safety Aaron Williams suffered a neck injury that caused him to miss 13 games.
Henderson, 58, has coached in the NFL for 13 seasons. Besides the Ravens, he had previous stints as a defensive backs coach with the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars. He was a defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions and New York Jets.
Henderson and Hamlin, who joined the Bills in 2015, bring to three the number of assistant coaches to depart the Bills since the end of the season. The other is another holdover from the previous staff, assistant offensive line coach Kurt Anderson, who last Saturday night announced he was leaving to become offensive line coach at Arkansas.