Commentary

Fewell adds fire to Bills' search

Perry Fewell deserves a longer look than his current seven-game interim tenure.

Originally Published: December 1, 2009
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

Depending on the circumstances, the abbreviation "NFL" can hold a variety of meanings.

For example, when the league first started, it was "Not For Ladies."

When commissioner Paul Tagliabue began to fine players for overindulgent touchdown celebrations, it was the "No Fun League."

Nowadays, in the culture of instant gratification, the NFL can stand for "Not For Long," meaning a player or coach won't have his job for long if he doesn't have success quickly enough. Just take a look at the QB carousels in Cleveland and San Francisco. Because relatively new coaches Eric Mangini and Mike Singletary do not have a lot of time to prove themselves with those teams, neither do their players.

[+] EnlargePerry Fewell
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesPerry Fewell is on a seven-game tryout for his job. Is that fair?
This is why we're hearing familiar names such as Mike Shanahan and Marty Schottenheimer as candidates for the coaching job in Buffalo. The Bills want a winner now and are recycling some of the game's big names, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. There is nothing wrong with wanting a Super Bowl-winning coach like Shanahan for the job, of course. But it might come at the expense of developing the bright, unknown talent already in their backyard -- namely, interim head coach Perry Fewell, who has been with the Bills as the defensive coordinator for four years.

It's like shelling out a lot of money for quick-fix, high-profile free agents rather than building through the draft.

Is the 47-year-old Fewell, who is in his 12th NFL season, a better fit in Buffalo than the 66-year-old Schottenheimer, who has been a head coach for four franchises and 21 years beginning in 1984 and has yet to push any of his teams to the Super Bowl? Or than Shanahan, who has one playoff win since John Elway retired in 1998? Who knows?

It helps that some of the players like Fewell's approach. Terrell Owens told USA Today that Bills owner Ralph Wilson was "two weeks too late" in putting Fewell in charge, and running back Marshawn Lynch said Fewell's attitude is exactly what the team needed.

"He's fired up, amped up, and [gives] us a real presence," he said on the team's media Web site. "He's real aggressive and we're running with it."

"If he wins, I would think he would have to be strongly considered for the job," said ESPN analyst Herm Edwards, who knows Fewell. "But he's in a very difficult situation. They have a lot of injuries on defense to overcome. They have injuries on their offensive line. They are not set at quarterback. I mean, that's a lot for any coach to overcome. But he can't say those things. Otherwise, it looks as if he's just making excuses. He can only work with what he has."

After they fired Dick Jauron on Nov. 17, the Bills released a statement saying they will not comment on the search until they make a hire. However, based on the names already linked to the job, the franchise has been saying a lot: Shanahan, Schottenheimer and Bill Cowher, who reportedly turned down the opportunity to interview last week in Buffalo. I'm not trying to suggest that race is a factor in the search, because I believe that if Tony Dungy came knocking on the door, the Bills would listen.

But I also believe the league's stagnant and incestuous hiring practices essentially make Dungy the only coach of color with that kind of pull. Wade Phillips has more coaching jobs than playoff wins. Why is that?

And remember, Shanahan wasn't always a Super Bowl-winning coach. After paying his dues as an assistant for 13 years -- mostly on the college level -- the Raiders gave him 20 games to prove himself as a head coach before they fired him with an 8-12 record. Denver gave him another chance -- and a Hall of Fame QB. In his case, someone took a real chance on an unproven talent and it paid off.

I would think that after 12 years in the NFL, Fewell should have a similar opportunity. But it appears he has only five more games in this fractured season to make his case.

[+] EnlargePerry Fewell
AP Photo/Mike GrollWin No. 1 for Fewell came Sunday. He needs a few more before the end of the season.
So far, he's swapped Trent Edwards for Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB and opened up the offense. In his first game, a last-minute, 18-15 loss to Jacksonville, the Bills racked up 300 yards for the first time in two months. The 31 points they scored in their win against Miami on Sunday were the most since Week 2.

Now, granted, no one is thinking Fewell is the second coming of Marv Levy yet, but the team is showing signs of heading in the right direction.

"It is definitely a job he wants," said Floyd Keith, executive director of Black Coaches & Administrators. Keith said he sent his friend an encouraging e-mail and believes he is ready for the job. "But it is a business, and they also want a big name they can sell the fans.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for him and he's ready, but he's in a difficult situation."

The last seven games of a season isn't much time to implement ideas and a system. But it might be all Fewell gets.

"The people I talk to around the league all believe Perry's ready to be a head coach in the NFL," Edwards said. "He brings energy, and he can really relate to today's players. But he has to win, and he has to win now. It may not seem fair, but it's a business, now more than ever, and sometimes football decisions are not based solely on football."

Sometimes, it's based on who you know, and sometimes, it's based on how many know you. Fewell has a month to make a name for himself. It's not much, but those are the cards he's been dealt. And as Edwards said, he can't complain about it.

After all, "NFL" can also stand for "Not For Losers."

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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