It's Van Pelt's Show Now

With just a few days remaining to prepare for his first regular-season game as the Buffalo Bills' new offensive coordinator, former Pitt star quarterback and 10-year NFL veteran Alex Van Pelt was a little nervous.

And why shouldn't he be. Alex Van Pelt, promoted from quarterbacks coach after Buffalo's first-team offense failed to score a touchdown in 15 preseason drives, has a daunting task resurrecting the Bills' offense. After a 5-1 start, Buffalo's offense plummeted to 25th overall in the NFL.

That's enough to make any veteran coordinator a little shaky. But that doesn't mean Van Pelt isn't prepared. Calling plays on this day, a Monday Night Football matchup with the New England Patriots, has been running through his head for many years.

"I don't think anyone in my position wouldn't be nervous,'' Van Pelt said, "but I'm also excited. It's been hectic, too. It was a surprise, but we don't have time to dwell on it. We've just got to move forward and get ready for the big game on Monday night, and that's the approach we've taken. Just let it sink in briefly and get to work.''

While Van Pelt hasn't changed the Bills' offensive scheme, most likely since he helped design it the past two seasons since he was elevated to quarterbacks coach, it certainly will mirror his personality.

"I don't think you have to change the plays,'' Van Pelt said. "I think they're all good plays. We're running the same thing that a lot of other people run in this league. It's just how you call it that makes you a little bit different.''

That's the way many would describe his college days at the University of Pittsburgh. Despite setting numerous Pitt passing records and still holding many after four seasons as the starting quarterback (1989-92) for coaches Mike Gottfried and Paul Hackett, Van Pelt's Panthers weren't too successful.

Pitt went 8-3-1, 3-7-1, 6-5 and 3-9 during his four seasons. Van Pelt also was 1-10-1 against Pitt's top opponents -- West Virginia, Penn State and Notre Dame -- with the win and tie against the Mountaineers. It's difficult to know for sure, but one of those games likely altered Van Pelt's career thoughts.

"About halfway through my college-playing days, I felt that I might want to coach down the line,'' Van Pelt said. "I focused on what I needed to do to perform on the football field and didn't look too far ahead, but I kept that goal in the back of my mind.''

Van Pelt's NFL career was rather nondescript as well, but he certainly took advantage of situations at Pitt and with the Bills. Panthers' starting quarterback Darnell Dickerson was suspended, and the job opened up for Van Pelt. He was fortunate to hang on in Buffalo as well.

"I thought I was done in Buffalo,'' Van Pelt said. "But right before I thought that I would be released, Doug Flutie got hurt during camp. And I played there five more years. Things worked out pretty well for me. ... I thought that I've had a good career so far.

What I tried to do is just take things one day at a time, one game at a time, things like that. I've really never looked too far into the future. I had the same attitude whether I was preparing to play a game myself or lately when I was getting our quarterbacks ready to play.''

Van Pelt has continued to follow Pitt through the media and watches the Panthers on TV when he gets the chance. When he was in town with the Bills, as they prepared to face the Steelers in the preseason, he got in touch with veteran Pitt coach Bob Junko.

"It always feels good to come home to where I played,'' Van Pelt said. "I still care about Pitt a lot and try to keep up with what they're doing.''

Van Pelt still holds passing records with the Panthers like the longest play, 91 yards to Dietrich Jells against Rutgers in 1992; career yards, 11,267 from 1989-92; passes thrown in a game, 64 against Penn State in 1991; career passes attempted, 1,503; passes completed in a game, 37 against Notre Dame in 1990; passes completed in a career, 867; career total offense, 11,146; and most yards passing as a freshman, 2,881 yards in 1989.

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