Inside Bills Report

Over the past three seasons, the Bills coaching staff under Gregg Williams suffered a serious credibility issue. <P> The one-time Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator had never been an NFL head coach when hired by Buffalo in February 2001, but instead of surrounding himself with experienced help, Williams hired six assistants who had never coached in the league. Williams was 3-13 his first season and 17-31 overall when he was fired.

New Bills coach Mike Mularkey, also a rookie head coach, isn't making the same mistake.

Not one member of his 15-person staff that was completed this week is new to the NFL and plenty of his assistants have gray hair and strong resumes, including quarterbacks coach Sam Wyche, 59; offensive line coach Jim McNally, 60; defensive backs coach Steve Szabo, 60; and special teams coach Bobby April, 50.

Compared to Williams' first staff, Mularkey's has 74 more total years in the NFL and averages 11 years of experience per man compared to 6.0.

"It took a little while to put this staff together, longer than some other teams have done, but it was important, for the sake of the personality of the team, to make sure we had the right fit," said Mularkey, the former Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator who was hired on Jan. 13. "To be honest, I was very lucky to get all of these guys and keep the guys around here that we did."

Mularkey kept four of Williams' assistants, all from the team's No. 2-ranked defense: Jerry Gray (coordinator), Tim Krumrie (defensive line), Don Blackmon (linebackers) and Chuck Lester (defensive assistant).

Seven new offensive hires have gotten to work trying to fix a unit that ranked both 30th in yards and points: Joining Wyche and McNally are coordinator Tom Clements, receivers coach Tyke Tolbert, running backs coach Eric Studesville, tight ends coach Mike Miller, and offensive assistant Frank Verducci.

"I didn't think too long to say yes," said Clements, who worked with Mularkey in Pittsburgh. "After I studied this team on film, and people ask me what it looks like, I say, 'The cupboard isn't bare, not by any stretch of the imagination.' There are a lot of talented players here so hopefully we can get it all going correctly."

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--New OL coach Jim McNally is a Buffalo native who is coming home in his 25th NFL season. McNally is among the very best at his craft and he'll have his work cut out in Buffalo, where the Bills allowed an NFL-most 51 sacks last season and quarterback Drew Bledsoe is among the easiest targets to hit. McNally said he's open to shifting players around, but said he favors keeping former No. 1 pick Mike Williams at right tackle. "I've been with good teams, I've been with marginal teams, I've been with poor teams as far as records go," McNally said. "I'm not a miracle worker. I don't have all the answers. We're just going to do the best we can and see what we can do with them."

--New receivers coach Tyke Tolbert, 36, broke into the league just last season with the Arizona Cardinals but he had an auspicious debut, with second-round pick Anquan Boldin of Florida State catching 101 passes and making the Pro Bowl. The Bills are hoping he can do for Josh Reed (58 catches) what he did for Boldin. "Mike Mularkey has a reputation around the NFL as a great offensive mind," said Tolbert, who was available after the Cardinals fired Dave McGinnis and hired Dennis Green. "Knowing his system and watching his Steelers teams play, I wanted to be a part of it. When he called back and offered me the job, I told my wife, 'I'm going.'"

--Bills personnel in attendance at the workout of QB Drew Henson were head coach Mike Mularkey, newly signed quarterbacks coach Sam Wyche, offensive coordinator Tom Clements and general manager Tom Donahoe.

"We'd like to get a young quarterback in here and develop him for the future," Donahoe said. "Our position hasn't changed on that."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I can't yell. And I can't tell you how many of my former players have called to say they wished it had happened 20 years ago." - New Bills quarterbacks coach Sam Wyche who had a nerve to one of his vocal chords accidentally cut during surgery in March 2000.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Adding former Cincinnati and Tampa Bay head coach Sam Wyche is a huge coup for new coach Mike Mularkey. Not only will Wyche be a sounding board and well of advice for him, but he'll be invaluable in trying to get QB Drew Bledsoe's career back on track. Mularkey's success will be tied to Bledsoe's play - it's the deal head coaches sign on for.

Wyche, who has been out of the NFL since 1995, takes medication for a heart condition and his voice becomes fatigued after a surgeon accidentally cut a nerve to his left vocal chord during exploratory surgery three years ago. Before he would give him the job, Mularkey had Wyche work alongside him for a week.

"I just really wanted to see how the voice held up," Mularkey said. "I didn't have any doubts. I have too much respect for Sam as a coach and a friend to put him at a health risk and I wanted to make sure for himself."

Wyche said his heart - he suffers from cardiomyopathy - is at full function thanks to medication and he's been making hay and mending fences on his South Carolina farm. His voice is the issue - it's raspy but clear and more than strong enough to run a meeting, but he can't yell. For a coach, that can be prison.

"I'm not worried about the heart. The voice is an issue but it's not something I can't overcome," Wyche said. "I'm sure I'll have days where my voice will be a little sore but I won't have days where I can't coach."

PLAYERS TO WATCH: There are six unrestricted free agents but GM Tom Donahoe is expected to allow each to test the market, including starting CB Antoine Winfield. The Bills have been in talks with Winfield but the player would like to explore his options. The franchise (guaranteed top five salary) or transition tags would give Buffalo right-of-first-refusal options but they are not likely to be exercised. The Bills do not want to give franchise money to a player with just six career interceptions. The Bills' other UFA are FB Sam Gash, DE Keith McKenzie, RB Sammy Morris, LB DaShon Polk and CB Dainon Sidney. Twelve-year veteran Gash is a starter but Buffalo will consider cheaper options.

FEELING A DRAFT: The Bills draft 13th overall and their priorities are pass-rushing defensive end, center or guard to shore up a weak middle of the offensive line, and speed receiver to complement Eric Moulds. Pass rushers Will Smith of Ohio State and Kenechi Udeze of USC are likely to be there when Buffalo selects. No interior offensive linemen would provide good value at 13 so moving down is a possible move.

MEDICAL WATCH: LT Jonas Jennings, who ended the year on injured reserve with a dislocated big toe, is doing well and should be fine to attend all offseason workouts


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