It didn't take long for Gregg Williams to settle on his offensive coordinator.
As expected, the new Buffalo Bills coach has gone to "the cradle of coordinators" and selected Seattle quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard.
Sheppard, 49, has a good reputation around the league and is a student of the "West Coast" offense -- the short-drop-back, quick-passing attack the Bills are interested in implementing.
The Bills also today confirmed the hiring of Jerry Gray as defensive coordinator, so both of the key positions on Williams' staff quickly have been filled.
Gray, 38, is a former star cornerback for the Los Angeles Rams who has spent the past four years as an assistant with the Tennessee Titans. He was defensive backs coach the past two years. Another Titans aide, 42-year-old Ronnie Vinklarek, has been signed as offensive line coach. Vinklarek is a 20-year coaching veteran.
"Why this job at this time?," Sheppard said. "Honestly, it's the tradition of the Bills, the makeup of the team right now and Tom Donahoe. You add all that on top of what your personal and professional feelings are about Gregg Williams, and it all comes out to a pretty good situation."
Sheppard was non-committal about the Bills' quarterback situation. "I think Gregg's on record as saying when we get everybody together, we'll evaluate it, then we'll call the quarterbacks in and make a good decision for the Bills," he said.
Sheppard has worked the past two seasons under Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, who has a superb track record of grooming assistants. Head coaches Andy Reid of Philadelphia, Steve Mariucci of San Francisco and Marty Mornhinweg of Detroit all are former QB coaches for Holmgren.
Sheppard has coached against Williams in the AFC throughout the past eight years and apparently further impressed the Bills coach last year when he was a candidate for the Tennessee Titans' offensive coordinator job.
Sheppard seemed likely to get a promotion this season one way or another. He has close ties to both Marvin Lewis and John Fox, the two aides who lost out to Williams for the Buffalo job.
The Seahawks' coaching staff got high marks in '99 for squeezing excellent production out of Jon Kitna, a quarterback with a modest pedigree. Seattle made the playoffs that year. Last season, Holmgren turned the QB reins over to Brock Huard, but his season was ruined by injuries. The Seahawks had to give the job back to Kitna, and he did not perform so well.
Sheppard has an impressive resume, having worked with great offensive minds in his career. His past tutors include: Sid Gillman, the legendary Chargers coach; the late Doug Scovil and LaVell Edwards, the directors of the great Brigham Young passing offenses; Ted Marchibroda, the former Bills coordinator and NFL head coach; Ernie Zampese, former Cowboys coordinator; Ted Tollner, former Southern Cal coach; and Kevin Gilbride, former Chargers head coach.
Before joining Seattle, Sheppard worked for two years as offensive coordinator to Gilbride in San Diego, although he didn't call the plays. In '96 he was Marchibroda's receivers coach in Baltimore, but he did have play-calling duties, and the Ravens had the third-ranked offense in the NFL.
He was head coach at Long Beach State from '84 to '86 and at the University of New Mexico from '87 to '91.
The Bills also reported Williams has interviewed former Chicago Bears center Dan Neal to be tight ends coach.
The Bills also, as expected, are working to restructure the contracts of offensive linemen John Fina and Ruben Brown.