On Oct. 1, 1985, 31 years ago, Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. finally fired head coach Kay Stephenson.
Stephenson coached the Bills in two of the most miserable years in team history. In 1983, Stephenson’s first year as coach, the Bills finished 8-8. But the next two years were dismal. Buffalo went 2-14 in 1984, and started the season 0-4 in ‘85 before Stephenson finally got the ax. The team went on to finish 2-14.
Stephenson was replaced by Bills’ assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Hank Bullough. Bullough coached the rest of the ’85 season and was fired in November 1986. Marv Levy took over from there and guided the Bills to their best stretch in team history, highlighted by four-straight Super Bowl trips.
Here’s an excerpt from Vic Carucci's story on Stephenson’s firing:
Losses finally get the better of Kay
By Vic Carucci
Ralph Wilson had been patient. Too patient, many would argue, but patient nonetheless.
The Buffalo Bills’ president and owner stuck with Kay Stephenson as his head coach despite:
- Last year’s 0-11 start.
- Last year’s 2-14 finish and 52-21 season-ending loss to Cincinnati.
- This year’s 42-3 loss to the New York Jets and subsequent cries for Stephenson’s ouster from media and fans (he instead launched a fierce verbal attack on his players).
- A mistake-filled, 17-14 loss to New England that dropped the Bills’ record to 0-3 (he instead offered support to Stephenson, saying, “He’s doing the best job he can.”).
The Bills fell to 0-4 with Sunday’s 27-20 defeat at the hands of Minnesota. And Wilson’s patience finally ran out.
Stephenson was fired Tuesday. Hank Bullough, hired last January as the Bills’ assistant head coach/defensive coordinator, became the team’s ninth different head coach since its inception in 1960.
General manager Terry Bledsoe emphasized Bullough wasn’t hired on an interim basis. “He has a contract that extends beyond this season and beyond next season,” Bledsoe said.
Wilson traveled from his Detroit home to Western New York Tuesday to make the change. But he left Rich Stadium before a hastily called afternoon press conference and without explanation.
The 40-year-old Stephenson, who had been the second-youngest head coach in the NFL, also was unavailable for comment after leaving Rich. A woman who answered the phone at Stephenson’s Orchard Park home said neither Kay nor his wife, Mary Jac, wanted “to be bothered right now.”
In a prepared statement, Wilson said: “I have made this move today, because I consider it to be in the best interest of the Buffalo Bills football team. Kay Stephenson is a friend of mine and will remain a friend of mine, but we need to move in a new director and it can no longer wait.
“I have confidence that Hank Bullough can provide the kind of leadership, and his knowledge to correct our course and restore the reputation of Bills football to its rightful place.”