Levy returns to Bills as VP of football operations

1/5/2006 - Buffalo Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Marv Levy is back in football and feels like a newcomer.

Referring to himself as "an 80-year-old rookie," the Hall of Fame coach returned to the Buffalo Bills franchise he led to an unprecedented four straight Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s, eagerly accepting the position of general manager Thursday.

"My enthusiasm is unbounded," Levy said. "It's not just to get back into the mainstream of the football world but to do it with the Buffalo Bills, for whom I have such a longtime affection."

And then came the first of many jokes.

"They say two things happen when you get older. One is you begin to forget things," Levy said, before pausing. "And I can't remember what the other one is right now."

But don't let his age fool you.

"The age factor means nothing to me," said Levy, noting he runs three miles five times a week. "I'm old enough to know my limitations and I'm young enough to exceed them."

Old as he might be, he brings a fresh presence to a team that's fallen on hard times, having qualified for the playoffs only twice since Levy retired following the 1997.

Levy's return comes a day after Bills owner Ralph Wilson fired team president and general manager Tom Donahoe. The Bills are coming off a 5-11 finish to go a combined 31-49 in five seasons under Donahoe, tied with Cleveland for the third-fewest victories in the NFL during that span. They have missed the playoffs six straight years.

In tapping his franchise's storied past, Wilson brings in a trusted confidante and longtime friend to an organization that, at times, alienated fans under Donahoe.

"We're bringing Marv back so that he can bring a stability to the Buffalo Bills," Wilson said.

The 87-year-old Wilson, however, couldn't prevent himself from making note of Levy's age, saying, "I'm very proud to bring some youth to this organization."

Smiling, Wilson added: "With me and Marv, you can nickname us in the pro football world, the two golden boys."

Age might have played a factor when Wilson and Levy had difficulty coming up with Levy's new title.

Wilson introduced Levy as a vice president of football operations. Levy referred to himself as a general manager and director of football operations. The Bills, an hour after the press conference was over, finally announced that Levy would be listed as general manager/football operations.

Call Levy whatever you want, but there's no denying his resume.

With a 112-70 record, Levy is the winningest coach in Bills history and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2001. Since retiring, Levy has worked mostly as an NFL broadcaster while living in his native Chicago.

"This isn't a return to the good old days," Levy said. "We revere the tradition and the great teams that we had during that period of time. But things are different."

Levy will be responsible for the team's football-related decisions and report directly to Wilson. He will also act as a mentor for coach Mike Mularkey, who was retained despite struggling in his second season.

A Harvard-educated coach who would inspire his players with war stories and historical quotations, Levy was best known for the rallying cry he'd make before most every game: "Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?"

Although Levy had input in personnel decisions during his coaching career, his only previous front office experience came in 1985 when he served as director of football operations for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.

Among Levy's first priorities is evaluating his team's roster.

The Bills have four starters eligible for free agency, the most notable being cornerback Nate Clements.

Questions also remain whether the Bills can afford to keep veteran receiver Eric Moulds and offensive lineman Mike Williams, who represent significant salary cap hits unless they restructure their contracts for next season.

Moulds, a 10-year veteran, is the lone player left on the team from Levy's era.

Levy will also have to prepare for the draft in April. The Bills have the eighth overall pick.