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PHILLIPS LOOKS LIKE NEXT COACH

The Buffalo Bills probably won't look beyond their coaching staff to find a successor to Marv Levy, who announced his retirement today.

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips looks like the top candidate for the head coaching job.

Phillips, 50, has loomed as a logical replacement for Levy since the Bills hired him to replace Walt Corey as defensive coordinator after the 1994 season.

Phillips' defense kept the Bills in games during their 6-10 season in 1997, and has pretty much carried the team for most of the past three seasons. Phillips also has a wealth of coaching experience on the professional level, including a two-year stint as head coach of the Denver Broncos.

When his Buffalo contract expired after the 1996 season, Phillips was re-signed to a three-year agreement that runs through 1999 -- a year longer than Levy's contract -- and pays him more than $400,000 annually. The deal was unusually long and lucrative for an assistant, which made it fairly clear the Bills wanted to insure Phillips would remain in the fold long enough to succeed Levy. There was speculation around the NFL Tuesday that the Indianapolis Colts were denied permission from the Bills to talk to Phillips about their head coaching vacancy.

If Phillips is named to replace Levy, he is expected to make sweeping changes on the coaching staff. It is common for any new head coach to do some hiring of his own, and Phillips has no special ties to any members of the current Bills staff. Phillips also keeps a "ready list" of possible assistant coaching candidates.

Phillips' first order of business would likely be to overhaul the offensive staff, which has come under heavy criticism for the offense's terrible performance in '97. Coordinator Dan Henning, line coach Tom Bresnahan and tight ends coach Don Lawrence have taken the bulk of the heat, and their status was tenuous even with Levy at the helm.

Phillips also might want to make some adjustments on the defensive staff, which he inherited when he arrived in Buffalo in 1995, and could take a hard look at special teams, which struggled badly in '96 under Bruce DeHaven.

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