Make no mistake. Frank Reich very much wanted to be the head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
He poured everything he had into his interview with team owners Terry and Kim Pegula, General Manager Doug Whaley, and club president Russ Brandon last January in San Diego. Even in his role as offensive coordinator of the Chargers, his identity and a large piece of his heart remained with the team on which he established himself as one of the all-time great backup quarterbacks in NFL history in the 1990s.
Yet, after Rex Ryan wound up with the job, the part of Reich that still wanted the best for the Bills wouldn’t let the part of him that wanted to be their head coach feel much, if any, disappointment.
“It’s hard to explain, but interviewing for the job, you want to get it,” Reich said Saturday, after hosting his 14th annual Call to Courage Award Breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo. “But when Rex got the job, I was like, ‘That’s the perfect hire.’ I really felt that was a great hire.”
Looking at the situation objectively, Reich could easily see the benefit of the Bills hiring someone with head-coaching experience and a recognizable name that would generate excitement among fans.
Having been a coordinator for only one season, he said he didn’t even expect to get one chance to interview for a head-coaching position in the NFL, let alone two; Ryan’s former team, the New York Jets, provided the other before choosing Todd Bowles.
“I wanted the” Buffalo “job, but was ecstatic about Rex because I’m still a huge Bills fan, too,” Reich said. He jokingly predicted that the opponents in the 2015 AFC Championship Game would be the Bills and the Chargers.
But then he paused and said, “Why not?”
Another former Bills player, Scott Chandler, who received this year’s Call to Courage Award, won’t have to wait until the postseason to face the team with which he spent the past four-plus seasons. After being released by Buffalo, the tight end signed with AFC East rival New England.
“It was tough, just knowing our time in Buffalo was done,” Chandler said. “This really feels like home for me, my wife, my kids. One of my daughters was born here, the other one was born while I was in training camp” with the Bills. “We’ve raised our kids here.
“It’s tough to say goodbye to the fans of Buffalo, all the friends we’ve made here, but it’s time to move on.”
Before the breakfast, Chandler half-jokingly wondered if he would hear any booing from the many Bills fans in the crowd of more than 800. He wound up receiving a warm reception after a video highlight of his Bills career appeared on two large monitors in the ballroom. His picture, in a Bills uniform, also was on the cover of the program at every seat.
However, Chandler did say he was “really excited” to be a part of the defending Super Bowl champions and a consistent powerhouse.
“Obviously, they’ve been the epitome of success in the NFL,” Chandler said. “Not just here and there, but sustained success the last 15 years. Bob Kraft put a great organization there and Coach” Bill “Belichick has done a great job coaching. And I’m just excited to go there and see what I can do and be a part of the team.”
Reich on the continued success of the breakfast that he started in 2001 with his wife, Linda, and Athletes in Action director Fred Raines: “Fourteen years, still going strong, just shows there’s a good team effort. We really try to do Buffalo proud, try to do it in a first-class way, and have the kind of event that people will want to come back to. About 30 percent of the same people were there, but there were a lot of new people, too, so word-of-mouth was good.”
Among the featured guests was Chargers second-year running back Branden Oliver, the University at Buffalo’s all-time rushing leader with 4,094 yards. He is expecting bigger things from himself in 2015.
“I think I have a great opportunity,” said Oliver, who after joining the Chargers as rookie free agent last year rushed for 582 yards and three touchdowns and caught 36 passes for 271 yards and a score. “I know the playbook. I’m coming in more confident with one year under my belt. I really know what to expect this time.”
Several former Bills were in attendance, including Thurman Thomas, Booker Edgerson and Steve Tasker. Tasker was part of a media roundtable that discussed the Bills’ prospects for the coming season.