Bills owner fires Donahoe, will be team president

Updated: January 5, 2006, 10:01 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Tom Donahoe was fired as Buffalo Bills president and general manager Wednesday in a shakeup that could mark Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy's return to the franchise in a management role.

The move was announced by Bills owner Ralph Wilson a few days after he promised changes for an underachieving team that finished 5-11 and missed the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

The owner said he will take back the role of team president and will be more active than he has been in the last five years. He said assistant general manager Tom Modrak will retain his duties, but is not a candidate for the GM's job.

The team called a press conference to announce the new general manager Thursday afternoon. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported the 80-year-old Levy would return to oversee the football operation, and Wilson said Wednesday that Levy could play a role in the restructured front office.

"We're going to make that decision in the next few days," the owner said. "Marv is a very qualified individual and I don't know whether that will take place or not."

Donahoe, the only executive to hold the president's title in the franchise's 46-year history, was dismissed after five seasons. Despite increasing the team's ticket base, Donahoe's ultimate failure was the team's inability to win.

The Bills went 31-49 during Donahoe's tenure; the 31 wins tied with Cleveland for the third fewest in the NFL during that span. Besides Houston, which joined the league in 2002, the Bills are the only AFC team since 2001 that has failed to make the playoffs.

Buffalo hasn't made the playoffs since 1999.

Levy is the team's winningest coach with a 112-70 record and led the Bills to four consecutive AFC titles in the early 1990s before retiring after the 1997 season.

Levy's possible involvement is considered a mild surprise, but reflects Wilson's desire to bring in a trusted confidante and longtime friend to an organization that, at times, alienated fans and even the team's owner under Donahoe.

Head coach Mike Mularkey retained his job after meeting with Wilson for the second time in two days -- and shortly after the owner announced Donahoe's dismissal.

Wilson said Mularkey's status will not be affected by whomever he hires as a general manager, and he doesn't consider next season as a definitive year for his coach. Mularkey is 14-18 after two seasons in Buffalo and has three years left on his contract.

Mularkey said he's not impacted by the uncertainty of the team's search for a general manager and added that he would welcome Levy.

The Bills fired Tom Clements, the team's offensive coordinator the past two seasons, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reported. Clements. 52, had previously worked on staffs in New Orleans, Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

Donahoe was knocked for his management decisions, particularly the hiring of coach Gregg Williams, who was dismissed following the 2003 season after going 17-31 in three years.

The Bills produced in their first season under Mularkey, rallying from a 1-5 start to finish 9-7, but missed a shot at a playoff berth with a season-ending collapse despite playing against Pittsburgh's reserves.

The Bills struggled this season, undone by injuries and a sputtering offense under first-year starter J.P. Losman, who was eventually benched in favor of journeyman Kelly Holcomb.

With his coaching hires, Donahoe was faulted for passing over several other worthy candidates, including Carolina's John Fox, Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, Chicago's Lovie Smith and New England coordinators Charlie Weis, now the coach at Notre Dame, and Romeo Crennel, now with Cleveland.

Donahoe was also faulted for failing to address his offensive line this season despite awarding the starting job to the untested Losman. Losman went 1-7 as a starter and was eventually benched. The Bills offense struggled overall and their 4,122 yards were the fewest produced by Buffalo in a 16-game season.

Donahoe took over in Buffalo after Wilson fired John Butler.

Donahoe broke into the NFL as a scout with Pittsburgh in 1985 and eventually worked his way up to become the Steelers director of football operations. He was dismissed following the 1999 season after losing a power struggle to coach Bill Cowher.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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