The Buffalo Bills added more defensive brainpower and a lot of coaching experience to their organization Friday with the addition of Dave Wannstedt.
Wannstedt, 58, signed a contract to become assistant head coach and inside linebackers coach with the Bills. He has worked in the NFL for 16 seasons as either a head coach or defensive coordinator. His teams have ranked among the top 12 on defense 11 of those years. Wannstedt joins a defensive staff that includes defensive coordinator George Edwards and outside linebackers coach Bob Sanders, who is a former NFL defensive coordinator.
Wannstedt spent the past six years as head coach at his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh. He resigned under pressure on Dec. 7. He posted a 42-31 record at Pitt and was 7-5 this past season.
Bills head coach Chan Gailey was the offensive coordinator for Wannstedt with the Miami Dolphins in 2000 and 2001.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity given to me by Mr. [Ralph] Wilson and Buddy Nix to be part of a great organization with a rich tradition," Wannstedt said in a team statement. "I've coached in Ralph Wilson Stadium several times. I am excited to have those great Bills fans supporting our team and making it difficult for opposing offenses each week.
"I've known Chan for several years. Chan's had success everywhere he's been. Knowing what he's about as a football coach, knowing what he believes in and having worked with him in Miami, I know he has the winning formula. I'm excited to be part of this coaching staff and am looking forward to making a difference with this defense."
Wannstedt posted a record of 44-33 in 4 1/2 seasons as Miami's head coach, from 2000 to the middle of the 2004 season. Miami made the playoffs each of Wannstedt's first two years and had a winning record the next two but fell to 4-12 in 2004.
Wannstedt, a Pittsburgh native, should feel pretty comfortable with the Bills' staff. Sanders served under him in Miami from 2001 to 2004 as linebackers coach. Bills strength and conditioning coach John Gamble held the same position on Wannstedt's Miami staff.
"Dave and I have known each other for quite awhile," Gailey said. "I respected him when I worked for him, and I'm excited that he is going to be able to join our staff. I look forward to him being able to help our team in many ways. With his amount of experience he certainly should be able to do that."
The decision by Wannstedt to come to Buffalo comes a day after he interviewed with the Cleveland Browns for their vacant defensive coordinator position. Cleveland on Friday hired former Bills head coach Dick Jauron to lead its defense. Jauron spent this season as defensive backs coach in Philadelphia.
The Bills' defense can use all the help it can get. Buffalo ranked 24th in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed this season. The Bills were 32nd in rushing yards allowed and have ranked in the bottom 11 against the run six straight years.
If they don't turn it around, it won't be because of lack of experience off the field.
Beside Wannstedt's 16 years of NFL experience, Edwards has coached in the NFL 13 years, Sanders 10 years and secondary coach George Catavolos 26 years. Wannstedt's defenses always have played a 4-3 scheme. Wannstedt figures to be making considerably more money than last season's inside linebackers coach, DeMontie Cross, who was released by the team.
Wannstedt has been a familiar face for Bills fans for a long time. He was defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson for the 1992 Dallas Cowboys team that ravaged the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII. That championship season, in which Dallas ranked No. 1 in the NFL in defense, earned Wannstedt the head-coaching job with the Chicago Bears.
He posted a 41-57 record in six years in Chicago. Wannstedt was a top aide to Johnson at both Oklahoma State and the University of Miami before jumping to the NFL.