Firing follows disappointing 6-10 year

Updated: December 30, 2003, 1:34 AM ET
Associated Press

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills didn't spend $20 million for this.

Gregg Williams paid the price for the Bills' flop this season, losing his job as head coach.

Team president Tom Donahoe, calling this season a regression, believed the only way for the Bills to move forward was with a new coach. So Williams will not be rehired after completing his three-year contract with a 17-31 record, 6-10 this season.

"We just didn't feel we had made enough progress this year," Donahoe said Monday. "We have regressed this year. And I just didn't have the confidence going forward that we could get that turned around."

The record was particularly disappointing for a revamped team Donahoe bolstered by spending about $20 million in bonus money this offseason. After an encouraging 2-0 start, the Bills unraveled, particularly on offense, and ended the season losing seven of the last nine, capped by Saturday's 31-0 loss at New England.

Donahoe informed Williams of his decision during a meeting Monday.

"I regret that it didn't work out," Donahoe said. "I can't say anything publicly bad about the guy except we didn't win enough football games."

The Bills have four straight non-winning seasons, the longest such stretch since 1982-87.

While referring to notes, Williams thanked Donahoe and team owner Ralph Wilson for the coaching opportunity during a brief statement.

"We weren't able to do as well as I thought this year, but Tom has put the team in the right position," Williams said. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to take it to the next level."

He wouldn't respond to reporters' questions.

Williams turned down a contract extension last spring. The former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator became the Bills' head coach in February 2001, replacing Wade Phillips.

After Williams coached a patchwork, salary cap-strapped squad to a 3-13 record in his rookie season, the Bills were markedly improved last year after trading with the Patriots for quarterback Drew Bledsoe. They went 8-8 in 2002.

This season was a major step backward, and surprisingly so for a team that opened the year with consecutive victories, including a 31-0 rout of New England in Week 1.

Williams' play-calling was second-guessed, and he and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride drew criticism for a sputtering offense.

After establishing 10 franchise records a year ago, Bledsoe endured the worst season of his 11-year career.

And it didn't help that Bledsoe was running the same pass-oriented scheme without deep threat Peerless Price, who was traded to Atlanta last March, and with No. 1 receiver Eric Moulds limited for most of the season with a groin injury.

By the end of this season, several players, including cornerback Antoine Winfield and running back Travis Henry, publicly questioned the team's pass-first philosophy and failure to adjust to changes in personnel.

Donahoe suggested he agreed with the players' criticisms.

"I don't know today that you can coach in the National Football League if you cannot adjust to change," Donahoe said. "The players change, circumstances change, and you have to be adjusting all the time to that. We could've done a better job in some areas of making those adjustments."

Williams was Donahoe's first major hire when the team president took over following the 2000 season. Williams beat out two other high-profile candidates, Marvin Lewis, and John Fox, who both had successful 2003 seasons as head coaches.

Donahoe did not provide a timetable to complete his coaching search. Among those considered candidates to replace Williams are Jim Fassel, fired by the Giants, and Tom Coughlin, out of the NFL for a year after being dismissed by the Jaguars.

Donahoe said the new coach will determine the status of the assistant coaches who remain under contract.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press