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VACANCY SIGNS POSTED ON BILLS' COACHING STAFF

The Buffalo Bills rang out the old on New Year's Eve. The question now is, when will they ring in the new?

During Marv Levy's retirement announcement Wednesday, team owner Ralph Wilson said he had not settled on a successor for the head-coaching job, nor had he set a timetable for when he would name one.

Yet all signs still point to Wade Phillips, the Bills' defensive coordinator for the past three seasons, being promoted to take Levy's place in the near future.

Phillips, 50, is the only member of the Bills' staff with head-coaching experience, having spent two years (1993-94) at the helm of the Denver Broncos. He also is the Bills' highest-paid assistant, with two years remaining on a guaranteed contract that pays him more than $400,000 annually.

Phillips attended Wednesday's news conference with several other members of the coaching staff. When it ended, he had little to say to reporters.

"It's Marv's day," Phillips said. "I really don't want to talk."

At least one person in attendance was enthusiastic about the prospect of Phillips replacing Levy.

"Wade is a perfect match for the Bills," former Bills quarterback and current NBC analyst Jim Kelly said. "He's like a young Marv."

It is believed the Bills are feeling some pressure to act on Phillips. There are reports the Bills denied the Indianapolis Colts permission to interview Phillips about their head coaching vacancy.

In the final weeks of the Bills' 6-10 season, Wilson went out of his way to praise the performance of the defense while being highly critical of the offensive showing. Team observers have speculated that a major shakeup of the offensive coaching staff had been sought by the owner, regardless of whether Levy stayed.

"We'll put out a search for (a head coach)," Wilson said. "I'm not saying specifically we're going to search for a new head coach. It could be from within, it could be from without. It'll be difficult to follow in the footsteps of Marv, but we'll do our best."

On Wednesday morning, Levy informed his assistant coaches of his intention to step down. He also told them they were free to seek opportunities elsewhere.

The coaches each are guaranteed at least one year of pay.

If Phillips does get the job, he is expected to re-hire some of the existing staff members. Likely candidates to remain are linebackers coach Ted Cottrell and assistant linebackers coach/administrative assistant to the head coach Chuck Lester.

Receivers coach Charlie Joiner is probably the lone member of the offensive staff that Phillips would retain. A replacement for running backs coach Elijah Pitts, who is battling cancer and unlikely to return to work, will also probably be hired.

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