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LEVY LEAVES HIS OPTIONS OPEN

Marv Levy's annual season-ending/state-of-the-Buffalo Bills news conference Monday was notable for what he didn't say.

He didn't say if he was returning to coach the Bills. He didn't say if he was making any changes among his assistant coaches. He didn't say which players or positions would be addressed.

Levy acknowledged that all major decisions -- including his own future -- would be addressed during his annual postseason meeting with team owner Ralph Wilson and general manager John Butler sometime in the next week or so.

There was speculation that Levy, 72, might use the news conference at Rich Stadium to announce his retirement in the wake of the Bills' 6-10 season, their worst finish in a full season since he took over as coach midway through the 1986 campaign.

Although he spoke in terms of being back for next year, Levy did little to put the issue to rest. He refused to answer direct questions about whether he would be back.

"If and when I'm going to retire, I will, with no notice at all, make that decision and do it," he said, maintaining a stance he has adopted in the past several days.

Levy said he was taking nothing for granted regarding Wilson's outlook on what the Bills need for next season, including Levy's future.

"At any time if he feels there's anything beneficial for the team to make (any changes), he should," Levy said.

Asked if he were up to the rigors of what he admitted would be a difficult rebuilding process, Levy said, "Why not? I just took a Stairmaster and weight-training workout that I challenge any of you (reporters) to match. I've just worked longer hours, seven days a week, for the last five months, than any two of you have.

"I'm full of energy and I feel great and I love the game, and I want the Buffalo Bills to get better fast and excel. My mind is on 1998."

He said "no source is going to be untapped" in the Bills' efforts to improve, including the draft, free agency, the World League of American Football, the Canadian Football League, and from within. The Bills will have the ninth overall choice of next spring's draft, their highest choice since they had the third pick in 1987.

Otherwise, Levy spent most of Monday's 35-minute session looking back on the season.

He called the 1997 Bills a team in transition "maybe even more so than a lot of us in the Bills organization anticipated." He cited the retirements of quarterback Jim Kelly and center Kent Hull as particularly harmful to the team's chemistry.

"In retrospect," Levy said, "the thing we missed from fellas like them was the aura of confidence they portrayed even when things weren't going just right."

The coach said his "biggest disappointment" was the performance of the special teams, which always has been his coaching specialty.

"We went from best in the league to worst," Levy said. "We were 30th and 29th in kickoffs. I'm mortified and embarrassed by that performance. If I want to put some criticism toward myself, I'll do it here.

"I'm going to have zero tolerance for a (special-teams) guy. I'm not waiting for someone to develop. Maybe I saw good athleticism in some guy on the special teams, but he just didn't have the knack. There wasn't any loafing on it, but we're looking for guys that right now are -- and I'll put it in big, heavy quotes -- 'trained killers.'

"We're looking for somebody right now that is going to be good on the special teams. I don't have time to see, three years from now, who he is."