Analyzing the Bills' coaching candidates

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
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The Buffalo Bills began their coaching search this week. Several early names have already surfaced, some of which were outlined Wednesday in the AFC East blog.

Although more names will surely come up, here are some early thoughts on Buffalo's first round of candidates.

Ken Whisenhunt, former Arizona Cardinals head coach

Whisenhunt
The good: Whisenhunt comes with good head-coaching experience and Super Bowl experience with the Arizona Cardinals. Whisenhunt also worked with Bills assistant general manager Doug Whaley in Pittsburgh; that familiarity helps. Whisenhunt is a good offensive mind when he has a quality quarterback, such as Kurt Warner or Ben Roethlisberger.

The bad: Whisenhunt is another retread -- a head coach who was fired for failing somewhere else and then given a second chance by Buffalo. That trend hasn't worked well for the Bills, who hired the wrong retreads in Chan Gailey and Dick Jauron. Whisenhunt's career record is 45-51 and he led Arizona to the playoffs in only two of his six seasons there.

Ray Horton, Cardinals defensive coordinator

Horton
The good: Horton is an up-and-coming assistant who could infuse energy into the Bills. Like Whisenhunt, Horton also has Pittsburgh ties to Whaley -- both came up in the successful Steelers' organization. Horton could be the next assistant ready to become a quality head coach. He is getting plenty of interest from several teams.

The bad: Horton is somewhat of an unknown with zero head-coaching experience. Is he the next Mike Tomlin or the next Jauron? You never know for sure. Horton has only been defensive coordinator for two seasons. Horton is very much a defensive coach and would require a strong offensive coordinator to call the shots on the other side of the football.

Lovie Smith, former Chicago Bears head coach

Smith
The good: Smith was head coach of the Bears for nine years and holds a solid 81-63 record. He is 3-3 in the playoffs with one Super Bowl appearance. That is proof that Smith knows how to win in the postseason. Smith has an even-keeled demeanor that worked well in a large, pressure-packed city like Chicago. Buffalo pales in comparison and is a much smaller market.

The bad: Smith, another retread, only led Chicago to the playoffs in three of his nine seasons. That's not a good ratio. Smith didn't have many awful years, but he didn't have many tremendous years, either. The Bears were about average and finished with seven to nine wins in four of Smith's nine seasons. Smith is a good defensive coach, but his offenses have been terrible. The Bears were 23rd or worse in total offense in all but one of Smith's nine seasons.

Mike McCoy, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator

McCoy
The good: McCoy's star continues to rise after the stellar job he's done the past two years with quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning -- two very different signal-callers in terms of experience level and talents. Yet, McCoy thrived and made it to at least the divisional round with both players. Buffalo is unsure of its quarterback situation. But whoever next year's quarterback is, he'll most likely would benefit if taught by McCoy.

The bad: The Bills, or any other team, must wait for McCoy to finish his season. The Broncos are expected to make a deep playoff run. Some predict Denver will make it the Super Bowl. That would significantly push back any timeline for the Bills to get started with McCoy -- and time is of the essence.

Chip Kelly, University of Oregon head coach

Kelly
The good: Kelly is an innovative coach whose fast-paced, up-tempo offense is redefining the sport. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick credits Kelly for helping the Patriots improve their tempo on offense this season. Kelly has produced plenty of NFL players during his tenure at Oregon.

The bad: The pro level isn't for every college coach. Even top college coaches such as Nick Saban failed in the NFL. Can Kelly make it in the pros? That's the big unknown. But Kelly has a cushy job at Oregon and tons of interest from other NFL teams. The Bills might have to pay top dollar and perhaps get into a bidding war to convince Kelly to leave the college ranks and choose Buffalo over other NFL teams.

This is a good list to start for Buffalo. The Bills are doing a good job of getting right to work and lining up as many coaching candidates as possible.

Which coach out of this group would be the best fit for Buffalo?

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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