Bills fire Phillips after he rejects staff changes
BUFFALO, N.Y. (CNNSI.com) -- As reported by Sports Illustrated's Don Banks early Monday morning, Wade Phillips was fired as head coach of the Buffalo Bills for refusing to dismiss special teams coach Ronnie Jones.
Phillips' firing Sunday night followed the Bills' 8-8 season, the first time since 1997 they missed the playoffs. It also comes on the heels of the dismissal of general manager John Butler last month.
The Bills have not announced replacements for either Phillips or Butler, though ex-Pittsburgh Steelers executive Tom Donahoe is considered the leading candidate for Butler's job.
If Donahoe is hired, as expected, some league insiders think Donahoe would turn to as his head-coaching candidates are Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who worked under Donahoe in Pittsburgh in the same role, and Jacksonville defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who also once was a Steelers coordinator.
Gailey signed a two-year extension on Monday to remain with the Dolphins as their offensive coordinator, but if a head coaching opportunity was offered to him, it is unlikely that he would turn it down.
Phillips' firing with one year remaining on his contract was the result of his refusal to release Jones, the target of frequent criticism during the season, Wilson said in a statement.
"Buffalo special teams' record was among the worst in the National Football League last season," he said. "I felt we needed a change and that my request was reasonable ... I did not want to release Wade but his refusal left me with no option."
Jones, who is a close friend of Phillips, was hired despite no experience coaching special teams. The Bills finished at or near the bottom of the league in nearly every major special teams category.
During the season, Phillips was criticized for his handling of the quarterback controversy between Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie. He also drew criticism for remarks he made leading up to Buffalo's Dec. 11 Monday night matchup with Indianapolis, when he declared that neither team had a legitimate playoff shot. The Colts defeated the Bills 44-20 and won their next two games to reach the postseason. It was the third consecutive loss for Buffalo, who dropped four of its last five.
"It wasn't a total shock," defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said of Phillips' firing.
The security of the rest of the Bills' staff is very much in limbo, depending on whether the new general manager wants to bring in his own people or not.
Phillips was reportedly in San Francisco on Monday and unavailable for immediate comment.
Bills' defensive end Marcellus Wiley heard the rumors swirl Monday morning and stopped by Ralph Wilson Stadium to offer Phillips his support, not knowing the coach was out of town.
"As everybody's seeing, he'll go down with the ship," Wiley said. "It's unfortunate that he had to lose his job. It was to no avail."
Nose tackle Ted Washington arrived at the stadium in a show of support for Phillips as well. "I just wanted to get my point across about how I felt about Wade," he said, adding he'd like to see Cottrell take Phillips' place.
Cottrell is under consideration for the head coaching job with the expansion Houston Texans.
"He knows the system. He has all the tools, he has the experience," Washington said. "He's been around this business for a long time and I think he's ready to step up and be a head coach."
Phillips and the Bills' entire offense took much of the blame for a series of Bills' late-season losses: the Bills lost four of their last five games and missed the playoffs for only the third time in 13 years.
Phillips compiled a 29-21 record, including 0-2 in the postseason.
"Wade has done a good job for us, reaching the playoffs two out of the last three seasons," Wilson's statement said. "But I felt the dismissal of the special teams coach was imperative for the improvement of our team."
Bum Phillips, an ex-NFL head coach and Wade Phillips' father, said he hadn't heard of the firing and hadn't spoken with his son.
"We got a weekly newspaper down here so I don't hear it all," Phillips said from his home in Goliad, Texas. "I haven't talked to Wade. I figure that's his business and he'll take care of it."
The elder Phillips said coaching in the NFL is a tough business.
"There ain't but two kinds of coaches in the NFL," Phillips said. "Them that's been fired and them that's going to be fired."
Wade Phillips' job has been in jeopardy for several weeks, but twice Wilson issued votes of confidence to him, including one after an all-day meeting with Phillips last week in Florida.
"Mr. Wilson confirmed, as he did three weeks ago, that Wade Phillips is head coach of the Bills," team spokesman Scott Berchtold said after Wilson and Phillips held a daylong meeting at Wilson's home in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Jan. 2.
Berchtold, who wouldn't go into further detail of the meeting, was referring to comments Wilson made three weeks ago, crediting Phillips as having "done a good job." Wilson, at the time, also said he had no plans of firing his coach.
Long-time GM Butler was fired Dec. 19 for, in essence, refusing Wilson's three-year, $3 million contract extension.
Before joining the Bills, Wade Phillips was the head coach of the Denver Broncos for two seasons and compiled a 16-16 record. He also was the interim head coach in New Orleans for the final four games of the 1985 season, finishing 1-3 in relief of his father.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.