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Reich heads speculation about Bills’ next coach

Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Frank Reich had emerged as a strong candidate to become the next coach of the Bills, The Buffalo News has learned.

Other names have been mentioned prominently in NFL circles, including Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz (who was head coach of the Detroit Lions before arriving in Buffalo before the 2014 season) and former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

However, multiple NFL sources say Reich immediately became the Bills’ top target after Doug Marrone exercised his option Wednesday to leave his job as head coach with one season left on his contract.

Reich, 53, spent last season as the offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, who ranked 18th in the NFL in total offense, 30th in rushing, and 10th in passing. He joined the Chargers in 2013 as their quarterbacks coach. That year, Rivers completed a team-record and NFL-best 69.5 percent of his passes for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns (second-most of his career) with only 11 interceptions. That gave him a career- and team-record-tying passer rating of 105.5.

Reich, whom the New York Jets have reportedly requested to interview for their head-coaching vacancy, built a strong reputation for himself throughout the league for helping to enhance the production of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

It’s also believed that Reich is the favorite pick of Bill Polian, who is widely speculated to take over the Bills’ football operations in the next month or so.

Polian and Reich have extremely strong ties. Polian was the Bills’ pro personnel director and then general manager during the 10 seasons (1985-1994) Reich was a quarterback on the team, spending most of his time as a backup to Jim Kelly. Reich is best known for leading the greatest comeback in NFL history when, with Kelly injured, he led the Bills from a 32-point deficit to a 41-38 wild-card playoff victory against the Houston Oilers on Jan. 3, 1993. When Polian left the Bills to become general manager of the Carolina Panthers, he signed Reich as a free agent in 1995 and he proceeded to throw the first touchdown pass in the history of the expansion franchise.

Reich also was an assistant coach for the Indianapolis Colts while Polian was their team president.

Since retiring from football, Reich has established himself as a top-flight NFL assistant.

In 2008, he was the Colts’ offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach. Reich became their quarterbacks coach after Tony Dungy retired as head coach early in 2009 and Jim Caldwell, who had been the quarterbacks coach, took his place.

Reich moved to receivers coach in 2011, but lost his job when Caldwell and the rest of the coaching staff were fired.

In 2012, Reich became the wide receivers coach for the Arizona Cardinals. But at the end of that season, he was dismissed, along with head coach Ken Whisenhunt and the rest of the staff.

The following year, the Chargers hired Whisenhunt as their offensive coordinator and Reich became their quarterbacks coach. After the season, the Tennessee Titans hired Whisenhunt as their head coach, opening the door for Reich to be promoted to offensive coordinator.

“I think Frank, in his first year, did a very good job,” Chargers GM Tom Telesco, who worked for Polian in Indianapolis, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “He’s smart. He’s detailed. He’s prepared for this for a long time.

“He’s a great teacher, a great communicator, and he can really handle a room as far as handling the offense. He did an excellent job, and I’m not surprised that some teams would have interest in him. But selfishly, I hope he stays here.”

e-mail: vcarucci@buffnews.com

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