ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With a number of well-credentialed coaches, including Super Bowl winners Mike Shanahan, Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren and Brian Billick seemingly available if you meet their price, there is some optimism surrounding the Buffalo Bills’ future direction.
As for the Bills' immediate future, that falls on the broad shoulders of interim head coach Perry Fewell, who replaced Dick Jauron Tuesday.
Clearly, Fewell has his work cut out for him.
He inherits a Buffalo team that shares the longest current playoff drought in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, dating back to 1999. On Day 1 as head coach, Fewell said he wants his team to “play like hell and win.” On Day 2, he made his first big decision, naming Ryan Fitzpatrick his starting quarterback over Trent Edwards for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.
“We just felt like Ryan gives us the best opportunity to go into Jacksonville and win this week,” Fewell said.
The decision to start Fitzpatrick was initiated by offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and approved by Fewell, who described the Bills' quarterbacking situation as “week-to-week and day-to-day.”
In summarizing how the Bills' offense might look different with Fewell running the show, the 26-year-old Fitzpatrick said, “not a ton will change.” But, he added, "Perry brings a different attitude and coaching style."
Fewell agreed that his style differed from Jauron's.
“I’m more fired up, I’m much more emotional," he said. "Whether the team takes on these characteristics, I don’t know.”
The switch from Edwards to Fitzpatrick was fully endorsed by wide receiver Terrell Owens.
“He’s (Fitzpatrick’s) a veteran and has more experience," Owens said. “He will bide time, assess the defense and take shots downfield.”
Fitzpatrick went 2-1 while Edwards was sidelined with a concussion. Edwards returned last Sunday in a loss at the Tennessee Titans.
“I thought it was his (Fitzpatrick’s) job to lose,” Owens said.
For Fewell, choosing between Edwards and Fitzpatrick must have seemed like picking between root canal and shock therapy. Both quarterbacks have struggled all season moving the ball and finding deep threats Owens and Lee Evans.
In his last four games, Edwards has thrown just one touchdown pass to go with five interceptions. Fitzpatrick has been similarly ineffective with just two touchdown passes and four interceptions in four games this season.
The affable Fewell has spent his entire 12-year NFL coaching career working on the defensive side of the ball. He’s had to deal with a number of key injuries over the last two years.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills reside near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive category: 28th in points scored, 29th in total offense, 29th in passing yards per game.
Buffalo’s scoring woes were clearly evident during the exhibition season when their first-team offense scored exactly three points -- total -- in four games. This led to the firing of offensive coordinator Turk Schonert 10 days before their first regular-season game. The Bills' lackluster no-huddle offense was also scrapped after six games.
“You never envision things would have transpired to this point,” Owens said. “It’s tough. I haven’t been in a losing situation like this before. I haven’t been as productive as I would like. All I can do is work hard.”
All season, Jauron stressed the Bills need to stretch the field and make big plays -- to no avail.
Owens, who arrived in Buffalo this offseason amidst considerable fanfare, has been at best a non-factor, at worst a complete bust. Nine games into his one-year, $6.5 million dollar deal, Owens has caught just one touchdown pass. Owens, 35, has yet to have a 100-yard receiving game this season and seven times has caught three balls or fewer, stats reminiscent of a No. 4 receiver, not a future Hall of Famer.
“I’m not in a system I’m accustomed to,” Owens said. “I haven’t been utilized like I have been in years past. In San Francisco and Philadelphia, we had great offensive minds that utilized my abilities.”
The Bills' inability to get T.O. the ball has been a sobering experience for him. As a Pro Bowler on winning teams, Owens became as notorious for his public feuds with quarterbacks Jeff Garcia at San Francisco, Donovan McNabb at Philadelphia and the Dallas Cowboys’ management as for his elaborate touchdown celebrations.
Since his arrival in Buffalo, T.O. has been by all accounts a boy scout from a public relations perspective, an eerie silence for Bills fans who at this point would gladly take all the drama that Owens brings as long as it came with some touchdowns and wins.
David Amber is an ESPN TV correspondent based in Toronto.