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Schwartz good choice as Bills rebuild staff

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Posted: Friday, January 31, 2014 9:59 am

It likely isn’t a problem Doug Marrone expected to encounter after his first season as coach of the Bills.

But, less than a month following his inaugural campaign, the Buffalo staff has taken a major hit.

Marrone began the 2013 season with a staff of 21 assistants, including the three who handle strength and conditioning.

But of the 15 position coaches and three coordinators in place for the opener, seven are now gone ... eight if you count a new hire who lasted a mere 11 days.

Three of the exits were Marrone’s decision: linebacker coach Chuck Driesbach, defensive backs assistant Donnie Henderson and wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard.

But the game-changer came when defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was hired as head coach by the dawdling and beleaguered Browns.

He then took another Buffalo linebackers coach, Jim O’Neil, Driesbach, defensive quality control assistant Brian Fluery, defensive line coach Anthony Weaver  and secondary coach Jeff Hafley with him.

Hafley had been hired to replace Henderson, but opted to join Pettine instead.

MARRONE, hired by the Bills after four seasons as head coach at Syracuse, as with most NFL bosses, would never block a member of his staff from taking an elevated position elsewhere.

That’s why, as much as he didn’t want to lose Pettine,  Marrone willingly gave permission for him to interview with Cleveland.

O’Neil left to become the Browns’ defensive coordinator, an obvious promotion and Driesbach had already been fired in Buffalo.

But the exits of Fluery,  Weaver and Hafley, all of whom were under Pettine with Buffalo, the latter for barely a week, seemed to bother Marrone.

To be sure, their being hired by the Bills was likely impacted by the defensive coordinator’s input but, in effect, they left for parallel jobs.

And Marrone’s comment in the face of Weaver’s impending exit — “We want people that want to be here” — had an unmistakable twinge of  bitterness.

STILL, he replaced Pettine, quickly and decisively, with one of the top defensive minds available.

As a head coach of the Lions, Jim Schwartz’s tenure was underwhelming. In five seasons with Detroit, he was 29-51, but managed a 10-6 record in 2011 that ended the franchise’s 12-year playoff drought.

No matter, in eight seasons for Jeff Fisher at Tennessee, he was one of the NFL’s most respected defensive coordinators.

At Schwartz’s introductory press conference on Monday, Marrone noted, “We were able to hire a defensive coordinator who obviously has an unbelievable track record. You want to look at people who you don’t like going against their defense. Jim’s defense has always been very tough, difficult to run on, difficult to score on. They’ve been aggressive and very tough to game-plan against.”

For his part, Schwartz allowed, “When you’re a head coach and you find yourself on the outside (fired), you want your next opportunity (quickly, but)  you want to be very careful about (it). 

“This is a tremendous opportunity for a defensive coach with the players that are in place.  I think there’s some real positives here that we can build on.” 

CLEARLY, he’s not bitter at being fired by the Lions at season’s end.

“If you look around, just about every coach has been in that position,” Schwartz said. “There are some great ones that have been fired ... it’s part of this business and it’s the way it goes.

“We do this because we love to. I graduated from Georgetown—I think I was the first guy in the history of Georgetown to ever go into coaching. I didn’t do it because the money was here even though I‘ve made a lot of money in my career . I didn’t do it to be on national TV. I did it because football is what I love the most.”

He added, “ I played Division III football ... non-scholarship. That’s the attitude I’ve taken through my whole career. I work an awful lot, but I wouldn’t say I have a great work ethic. I just like what I do.

“When you combine your hobby and your profession, you’re in a great position. There was never a question of getting back on the horse. I was just making sure that the opportunity was the right one and I’m very confident that this is it.”

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at

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