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BILLS HIT BACKSTRETCH WITH TOO MANY QUESTIONS, NOT ENOUGH ANSWERS

After their lost weekend in New York, my suggestion to Tom Donahoe, the Bills' commander, is to devote the rest of the season to getting the vital questions answered. Such as: Is Gregg Williams an NFL head coach beyond his title? There is a hefty case against him.

1. The most important thing a new coach can do upon being hired is to hire strong staff. Williams flunked.

2. He flunked again between his first season and his second when the only change he made was bringing in Kevin Gilbride as offensive coordinator, and there is a deep suspicion that Gilbride's hiring was Donahoe's idea.

3. He had to re-invent himself this season, and it hasn't been successful. Last year he was the tough guy disciplinarian who promised the Bills would no longer be the NFL's most penalized team, that the league's worst special teams would get much better, and that the Bills would conduct themselves like pros.

The Bills are killing themselves with penalties, many of them dumb; the special teams got worse in his first year. In his second they are better -- but not significantly better other than the kicking game. Charlie Rogers, the new return guy, has been a zero since his kickoff return for a touchdown return early in the season, and the coverage regularly provides reliable field position for the enemy.

4. Williams seems to know what to do on Friday, and on Monday mornings he can finger what went wrong. But as a game-day coach he gets a gentleman's "D" for being a nice guy.

5. The most important thing an NFL coach does in these days of the modern, highly paid athlete is to get the players to play for him. He can always hire good X's and O's guys as assistants.

The Jets game was vital for the Bills. They came out on the field with a slow pulse. They came out for the second half with a slower pulse.

It doesn't matter how a coach gets his players to produce, just as long as they produce. Don Shula made his reputation early and kept it until late in his career. He was already headed for the Hall of Fame when he once told me his motivating tool: "Fear still works." Bill Parcells played with his guys' heads. Even if they hated him they played for him. Marv Levy was the "Old Professor," who used charm, cajoling, wit and common sense.

Whether or not Williams gets to coach out his three-year contract, are wholesale changes certain on the defensive side? The Raiders dumped 10 defensive starters between seasons, and they're doing all right. The Bills need at least five defensive changes.

In the wake of the last four games, when the "let 'er rip" philosophy with Drew Bledsoe produced four offensive touchdowns, is this team better when there is a lot more emphasis on Travis Henry and the running game? Right tackle Mike Williams is being paid gazillions and the right guard, Marques Sullivan, has received all sorts of praise from the head coach. Why not pound away with Henry behind those two?

If the vertical passing game isn't the answer all the time, how big a check do you have to write in order to keep Peerless Price? If Price wants to break the bank at Monte Carlo, wouldn't the money be better spent on defensive help?

The Bills don't have a first-round draft choice. (It brought Bledsoe, thank goodness.) Wouldn't it be a wise move to use one of the remaining high picks to draft another good cornerback? Chris Watson is on the field too much as the nickel back, and he's just good enough to get you beat.

Speaking of the draft, Donahoe used two picks for the right to draft Ryan Denney in the second round. Wouldn't it be a good idea to play him in the final five games to find out if he has any pulse?

Finally, if Gregg Williams is going to be bagged -- and Gilbride is being considered a possible replacement -- wouldn't it be prudent to assess what's gone on with the offense in the last month and also to investigate what happened in San Diego to find out why he was fired after just one year as an NFL head coach?
(Larry Felser, long-time sports columnist for The Buffalo News, writes a column in Sunday's editions.)

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