Eric Wood has been down this road before.
The Buffalo Bills’ center was a rookie in 2009 when then-coach Dick Jauron fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert just two weeks before the season started.
So Wood spoke from experience Monday about the type of change this year’s team can expect after Rex Ryan fired Greg Roman on Friday and replaced him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.
“There’s some difficult aspects, but at this point in the season, we can’t reinvent the wheel,” Wood said. “A lot of the plays we’re going to be pretty familiar with. We’ll see how different it is come Sunday.”
Jauron’s decision in 2009 was accompanied by the team’s release of starting left tackle Langston Walker. As you might imagine, it all amounted to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. By November, the Bills fired Jauron, and the offense ended up ranking 30th in the NFL in yards and 28th in points under Alex Van Pelt, all part of a forgettable 6-10 season.
The offense’s most productive game that year, however, came early in the season – the Week Two home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which it gained 438 yards in a 33-20 win.
“We started off the year pretty well on offense before we struck a bunch of injuries,” Wood said. “We had some key injuries along the offensive line early that kind of thwarted” our plans.
That gives Wood some hope that the unknown that comes with Lynn taking over can work to the Bills’ advantage, starting Sunday when the Arizona Cardinals visit New Era Field.
“Any specifics, I’m going to kind of just leave blank,” Wood said of what Lynn might have planned. “It’s almost a little competitive advantage having a little mystery heading into Sunday.”
While the debate rages outside the team as to whether Ryan should be the next to go, Wood said the circus-like atmosphere hasn’t made its way into the locker room.
“It just doesn’t feel chaotic around here,” he insisted Monday. “We made a switch at OC. We promoted from within. … We’re kind of just moving on, business as usual, and we’ve got an important game this week.
That meant Monday’s return to work was just that, without any fire-and-brimstone addresses from Lynn or anyone else.
“There doesn’t need to be a big rah-rah speech. We’re all very familiar with Anthony,” Wood said. “It wasn’t anything crazy this morning. We all have a lot of respect for him as a coach.”
With the Bills having the weekend off after their loss to the New York Jets on Thursday, Wood had plenty of time to digest the news of Roman’s firing. Seemingly every media outlet, both locally and nationally, had a different spin on how it went down.
“I feel like when I read media reports, it feels like a lot more crisis than we feel within the building,” he said. “Sitting around the couch watching games” Sunday, “I read like eight different reports of what went down Friday. Only we know the truth. It didn’t feel nearly as hectic as everyone made it seem.”
In-season changes of coordinators are rare in the NFL, although there were an unusually high four such moves made last season. The Indianapolis Colts replaced offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton with Rob Chudzinski, the Detroit Lions replaced offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi with Jim Bob Cooter, the St. Louis Rams replaced offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti with Rob Boras and the New Orleans Saints replaced defensive coordinator Rob Ryan with Dennis Allen. The head coaches making those decisions – Jim Caldwell of the Lions, Jeff Fisher of the Rams, Chuck Pagano of the Colts and Sean Payton of the Saints – are all back in 2016, although they are off to a combined 2-6 start to the year.
Replacing a coordinator in-season is uncommon for a couple different reasons. No. 1, coaches are generally loyal to those who they have a previous relationship with from working side-by-side every week during the grind of an NFL season. Roman and Ryan, for example, knew each other from their time together in Baltimore in 2006-07.
No. 2, learning a whole new system in season is impractical.
“At this point, we wouldn’t be able to come up with all new terminology and the stuff that makes it really difficult when you have a whole new coaching change,” Wood said. “Will there be stuff added? Yeah. It’s going to be his offense. We’re going to be running what he wants to run. I’m sure there will be stuff added, stuff taken out, but we’ll leave that for the film.
“I don’t know how difficult the plays will be to adjust to. On a given game plan week we’re generally putting in a few new things, subtracting a few things. So from that aspect, it’ll probably feel pretty normal.”