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Bills’ foresight results in quick DC hire

Bucky Gleason

Thirty hours after Mike Pettine was introduced as the Browns’ head coach, the Bills announced they hired Jim Schwartz to replace him. It took about 30 seconds for the news to race across the blogosphere late Friday, complete with knee-jerk reactions from people accusing the Bills of making a knee-jerk decision.

If you’re looking for cheap entertainment, search for Schwartz’s name and “good hire” or “bad hire” on the internet, and enjoy the show. It seemed everybody had an opinion about whether he was the right choice. Most, including you, me and the Bills, don’t know whether he’ll work.

Nobody knows for sure.

One thing I do know – with the requisite 110 percent certainty, of course – is that the Bills did not make a snap decision when they hired Schwartz. There’s a difference between responding quickly with conviction and making a quick decision. Based on the speedy turnaround, Schwartz clearly was their top choice to be their defensive coordinator.

Doug Marrone has contingency plans for events that extend far beyond coaching. In fact, he’s even prepared for not coaching if – knock on wood – he gets into a car accident on the way to a game or something catastrophic happens on the sideline. Rest assured Marrone was ready for Pettine’s departure several weeks ago, enabling the Bills to immediately reach for Schwartz to fill the position. Schwartz will be introduced early this week.

The Bills are running under a different order. Years ago, before Ralph Wilson turned over the franchise to Russ Brandon, hiring a new coordinator often was a major project. It required approval from Wilson. It meant getting a contract past his money man, Jeffrey Littman, which often was another long and tedious chore.

Wilson, if he were still running the show, might have nuked the Schwartz idea given the owner’s proximity to Detroit and the Lions’ problems under their coach.

Thankfully, those days are gone. Ralph stays informed but no longer calls the shots. The current Bills’ hierarchy has the power to cut through the red tape and react when necessary, so they did.

The ink was drying on Pettine’s contract with Cleveland when the Bills began executing a backup plan that was hatched Dec. 30, the day Schwartz was fired. They effectively lured him to Buffalo when he could have kicked back and relaxed with three years left on his deal with Detroit.

Marrone could have promoted one of his assistants who were familiar with Pettine’s defense, such as defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson. He could have gone outside the organization and hired, don’t laugh, Wade Phillips or Gregg Williams. Both are very good coordinators with experience. Marrone wanted Schwartz.

Is he the right guy?

We’ll see, but there’s no ignoring his credentials or dismissing the ways he can help the Bills. He arrives with eight years experience as a coordinator with the Titans and five years as head coach of the Lions. He understands defenses and appreciates Marrone’s position. He can offer advice and perspective based on his own experience.

Disregard the smug, cocky expression you saw on Schwartz’s face for three hours on Sundays. Schwartz’s personality cannot, and should not, be judged based on television clips shown during games any more than Richard Sherman, a terrific player and intelligent man, should be confused with thugs.

Schwartz graduated from Georgetown and has a reputation for being a brilliant guy, a defensive savant. I’m told he works well with others and is friendly when comfortable with his surroundings. He sounds similar to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, smug as they come when standing before the masses but charming in small circles.

The Bills respected Schwartz’s opinion enough to hire Todd Downing, his quarterbacks coach in Detroit, along with him. Downing and EJ Manuel forged a good relationship during the 2013 Senior Bowl, so maybe he can talk the franchise quarterback into not playing like Trent Edwards and throw downfield more often.

If Downing can get more from Manuel, the Bills should be better on offense and take pressure off Schwartz’s defense. This might sound crazy, but maybe the Bills will stop the run for a change. Tennessee was sixth or better against the run five times in his eight seasons as coordinator. Against the pass, the Titans were ninth or better three times.

The key statistic, of course, is points allowed. On average, the Titans were ranked 16th during his eight seasons. The Lions ranked 23rd in points, on average, allowed and had four losing seasons during Schwartz’s five years. Their only playoff appearance came in 2011, when they finished 10-6 and grabbed a wild card.

Schwartz could be like many who were better coordinators than head coaches. Unlike Pettine in Cleveland, Schwartz is walking into a good situation in Buffalo.

The so-called experts can talk about schemes and argue the virtues of the 3-4 vs. the 4-3. Bills fans are sure to get excited about the Wide Nine. Every team plays variations of the same defenses depending on game situations. It comes down to putting players in the right spots at the right time and getting the most from them.

Last season, Pettine proved the Bills had enough talent to be a top 10 defense. The results led to him getting his opportunity as a head coach. The Lions’ results led to Schwartz getting fired and becoming a defensive coordinator. In a perfect world, both men will make smooth transitions and succeed in their new jobs.

But you never know for sure.

(Tune in to the “Bucky & Sully Show” at 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays on WBBZ-TV. Their guest Monday evening will be Buffalo News reporter Dan Herbeck.)


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