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New coach

Bills tab Titans' Williams to succeed Phillips

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Posted: Thursday February 01, 2001 1:19 PM
Updated: Friday February 02, 2001 6:24 PM

  Gregg Williams Gregg Williams was a surprise selection, beating out defensive coordinators Marvin Lewis and John Fox. AP

By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated

The Buffalo Bills have hired Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as their 12th head coach.

New Bills GM Tom Donahoe informed runner-up candidate Marvin Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator, of the news via telephone about 1 p.m. ET, according to a source.

Williams interviewed with Buffalo on Friday and overcame the two leading candidates, Lewis and Giants defensive coordinator John Fox, on the strength of a strong interview, the source said. It is also believed the Bills leaned toward Williams due to his more modest salary requirements.

Williams will be in Buffalo on Friday to be formally introduced to the media, an NFL source said.

Williams' hiring was considered a surprise, as he was going up against the defensive coordinators -- Baltimore's Marvin Lewis and New York Giants John Fox -- of the two teams that met in the Super Bowl.

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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The man coordinating the Tennessee Titans' defense will change. The way they play defense won't, head coach Jeff Fisher promised Thursday night.

    "This is a Titans defense," Fisher said. "Whomever directs this defense under my direction is going to continue with the way we do things. He's going to be expected to learn that, learn the system."

    The Titans lost their defensive coordinator Thursday when the Buffalo Bills hired Gregg Williams as their head coach. Fisher might wind up losing three coaches from a staff that guided the Titans to their best defensive season ever.

    Fisher said he will give Williams permission to talk to secondary coach Jerry Gray and defensive assistant Ronnie Vinklarek if it means promotions. For Gray, that would mean being considered for defensive coordinator.

    "We don't believe as an organization in holding anybody back," Fisher said.

    That leaves Fisher needing a new defensive coordinator to replace Williams for a defense that allowed the fewest yards per game in the NFL in 2000 and gave up just 191 points, the third-lowest total ever in a 16-game season.

    The Titans also had a club-record 55 sacks.

    Fisher might look to his own staff for his next coordinator. He called linebackers coach Jim Schwartz a "very serious candidate."

    Schwartz has been impressive in two seasons with the Titans, first as a defensive assistant and second in charge of linebackers and third-down packages.

    But Schwartz, 34, has only been a coach in the NFL for five years, not counting three years as a scout for the Cleveland Browns. He was an assistant in college in 1991 and 1992.

    Fisher said he will talk with other people as well and also has some potential candidates if he loses Gray and Vinklarek. 
     
     

    Lewis was considered the initial front-runner because he carried the best credentials, overseeing what many considered to be the NFL's top defense of all time. This past year, the Ravens allowed the fewest points in a 16-game season and held the Giants offense to no points in Baltimore's Super Bowl victory.

    It was considered a plus, too, that both Lewis and Fox were with Pittsburgh when Donahoe served as the Steelers' director of football operations.

    Also in the running was ex-Bills defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, who joined the New York Jets last month.

    Under Williams, the Titans defense finished first in the NFL in fewest yards allowed this past season.

    Defensive coordinator in Tennessee for the past four seasons, Williams broke into the NFL as the franchise's first quality control coordinator in 1990 when the Titans franchise was based in Houston. He also worked as the team's linebackers and special teams coach.

    Considered organized to a fault, Williams' stock rose dramatically with the Bills following his interview with Donahoe on Jan. 26. A day later, Williams pulled out of the running for the Cleveland Browns' head coaching position, which eventually went to University of Miami's Butch Davis.

    Titans general manager Floyd Reese said Williams' past experiences groomed him to be a head coach.

    "He's not just a one- or two-year wonder. He's somebody that has paid his dues and worked his way through," Reese said. "He's developed some really, really strong opinions about things that he believes you need to do."

    Calling Williams organized to a fault, Reese added: "He's very, very organized, meticulous, hardworking, very bright. Depending on what you're looking for, he has an awful lot of very, very strong attributes."

    Reports indicate that Williams' first move will be to bring with him Titans defensive backs coach Jerry Gray and appoint him as the Bills defensive coordinator.

    Lewis' agent, Ray Anderson, was dismayed over the Bills' decision.

    "We just are disappointed in the process and the lack of any consistent dialogue or communication during the process," Anderson said.

    Anderson said that the Ravens approached Lewis, offering him a pay raise as a reward for helping the team win the Super Bowl. Anderson said Art Modell's offer did not include any monetary figure and did not sway Lewis from pursuing the Bills' job.

    Lewis completed the second year of a three-year deal that paid him about $900,000.

    The Associated Press contributed to this story.

     
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