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MARV'S PERFORMANCE IS A RENEWAL OF HIS ARTFUL DODGER ACT

Marv Levy did what he has carved into an art form. He said nothing, but he did it stylishly.

Check that. He did respond cryptically Monday afternoon when someone asked him whether at his age he had the energy to continue on as head coach of the Bills.

Levy, who will turn 73 in training camp next summer if he indeed stays on the job, bristled. He said that "I am confident of my energy." He said that he could take on any two members of the media in a conditioning contest involving the Stairmaster and weight training. He said he was "looking to the future" as coach of the Bills and he wasn't talking about just a one-year future.

What did you think he was going to say? "If nominated I will not run; if elected, I will not serve"?

This man likes what he is doing. So his team finished 6-10. So his offense bored the fillings out of the fans' teeth. So his words Monday were a disincentive to buy Ticket One for 1998. He's indulging himself and he loves it.

Essentially what his State of the Bills' message came down to was a veiled message to owner Ralph Wilson: "If I'm going to leave, it will have to be because you fired me; I'm not leaving on my own."

If any major changes take place within the Bills' organization, it will be as a result of Wilson's demands when Levy and general manager John Butler meet with the owner in what Levy described as "an undisclosed time and location."

State of the Bills? It's in your face.

Levy wouldn't discuss players, his coaches or his own situation. He did say the kickoff and punt coverage has to get better and the Bills need a kick-return ace as well as a better kickoff man to team with Steve Christie. As revealing information goes, that's like saying the sky is blue.

In effect, whatever changes are going to be made on a team woefully in need of change is going to come at the insistence of Wilson in that meeting which will be critical to the team's future.

The crucial question: Does Wilson have as strong a handle on the Bills' situation, to say nothing of the inclination, as he needs to make such changes? He's barely seen the Bills in person this season since he spent almost the entire fall recovering from back surgery.

By no means does Butler represent part of the system of checks and balances that is vital to an organization. He is the GM but he's also a Levy man and has been since their days together in the USFL 15 years ago. He always refers to Marv as "coach" or "the coach," which is the same as saying "boss." That is not a situation that lends itself to offering independent, clear-headed opinions to the owner.

All during Levy's press conference Monday afternoon, Butler stood to the side scowling and growling, clearly seething at the mere idea of the media attempting to elicit some information for their readers, listeners and viewers, who are also the Bills' customers.

Observers were left to their own interpretations. Mine were that Levy is going to take a stand to make no substantive changes at all in the organization, other than to try to bring in some new players via free agency, the college draft, the World League, the Canadian League, et al.

In other words, offensive coordinator Dan Henning, whose attack never got out of the barracks, Tom Bresnahan, whose offensive line was a nightmare, and the other offensive coaches who failed to develop young players are safe as far as Levy is concerned.

He took particular care not to predict that the status quo would remain, since he once said "no coaching changes would be made" days before he met with Wilson and then defensive coordinator Walt Corey was fired. He also made the blanket statement that "no changes will be made in the organization" the year Wilson bagged Bill Polian, a development Levy knew months in advance would take place.

Marv may be a regular Jack LaLanne on the Stairmaster, but he's in complete denial over his case of myopia.

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