'I'd hesitate to fire Gray'

Seven-time Pro Bowler Steve Tasker says Gregg Williams will return as coach in 2003. He added that he would think twice about firing defensive coordinator Jerry Gray at the end of this season. This is an excerpt from Tasker's upcoming column in Shout!, on newsstands after the Dec. 22 Packers game. Call 1-800-93-BILLS to subscribe.

Williams has handled the whole job as head coach much better in his second year. I see the development. He's handling the off-field stuff much better. He's handling the media better. He handles his staff better. He lets things unfold a little bit and doesn't try to preempt or control everything. He's more calm and collected and handles himself with a little more confidence than last year.

I'd say the worst-case scenario for him is that he might feel some pressure to replace defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, just as he had to replace offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard last season.

But I would hesitate to do that and let me tell you why.

GRAY HASN'T HAD the opportunity to coach a strong talent pool of players. His detractors might say that the defense was better last year and Gray has become a worse coach. But it bears pointing out that he lost some really good players, including a linebacker such as Brandon Spoon, who was out for the season with a training camp injury. Spoon was a rookie last year, replacing a great player in Sam Cowart all year. Now he probably wouldn't have replaced London Fletcher, of course, but the Bills would have found ways to get him on the field in some of their packages and he would have helped.

In addition, Phil Hansen's gone. The Bills even miss Jay Foreman, who has played well for Houston this year.

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