Doug Marrone has deserted his position as Buffalo Bills head coach, and former executive Bill Polian might be on the verge of coming back.
Marrone on Wednesday exercised an exit clause in his contract and became a coaching free agent. His three-day window to leave expired at midnight.
CBS Sports reported Wednesday night that Polian will be returning to the Bills to oversee football operations. Polian, now an ESPN analyst, built the Bills' roster for their unprecedented and unduplicated 1990s Super Bowl run before winning a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts.
Polian did not immediately return a call to The Buffalo News.
Marrone guided the Bills to a 9-7 record, their first winning season in a decade, but they extended their playoff drought to 15 straight seasons, the longest in the NFL. The Bills went 6-10 in Marrone's rookie campaign.
"Doug Marrone informed me late today that he has decided to exercise the option clause in his contract and relinquish his responsibilities as our head coach," Bills owner Terry Pegula said in a statement.
"We are disappointed that Coach Marrone will no longer be an important part of our organization. We thank him for all of his hard work and leadership during his tenure and wish him and his family the best with the next chapter in their lives."
Marrone's unusual out clause was included in his contract in the event of an ownership change.
Multiple sources close to both parties told The News that Marrone was uncomfortable with the unkown of working with Terry and Kim Pegula and the changes they could make to the Bills' football operations.
Reports of Polian's return have been rampant, but nothing was definitive as the clock on Marrone's exit clause ticked down. General Manager Doug Whaley's future with the club appears uncertain.
An NFL source confirmed that Marrone's salary for 2015 was $4 million guaranteed and will be due in addition to any money he makes from his next employer.
Players were stunned by Marrone's departure two days after their season-ending interviews with him.
Almost as soon as Marrone's departure was reported, so was the mutual interest between him and the New York Jets.
"I just found out Doug Marrone is available. We will look at him,” Jets owner Woody Johnson told the New York Daily News. "He is a coach who was with us. And I know him a little bit."
Marrone was the Jets' offensive line coach from 2002 through 2005. He attended Lehman High in the Bronx.
"This is pretty good news," Johnson said. "I was shocked. It's been a long time since I've seen Doug, and I have good memories of him."
The Bills now must hire their fifth head coach in seven years. The most notable names on the market are San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich, Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and former Jets coach Rex Ryan.
"We will now begin the important process of conducting a thorough search for a new head coach as we continue to strive to reach our goal of returning to the playoffs and bringing a championship to Buffalo for our fans," Pegula said.
In Monday's season-ending news conference alongside Whaley, Marrone refused to answer whether he would take the opportunity to leave the team.
"I can't answer that question," Marrone said. "I will tell you this and my background has been the same and you guys can look into: I do not discuss my contract, and that's my rule. I never have and never will."
Teams with vacancies are the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers and Jets.