Bills hire Steelers' offensive coordinator

Following a Tuesday meeting with owner Ralph Wilson, Mike Mularkey has accepted an offer to coach the Buffalo Bills.

Mularkey emerged from his all-day meeting with Wilson and started calling Bills assistants Tuesday night to let them know he had taken the job. Mularkey, most recently the Steelers' offensive coordinator, was among the final three candidates along with former Bears coach Dick Jauron and Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.

The team confirmed that it hired Mularkey on Wednesday.

The 42-year-old Mularkey won the job because of his past relationship with Bills general manager Tom Donahoe and his bright offensive mind. Mularkey was a candidate for the Falcons' job and has been considered a hot assistant coach for the past couple of years.

Mularkey played tight end from 1983 through 1991 for the Vikings and the Steelers. He started coaching in 1993 at Concordia and joined the Bucs as an assistant in 1994 and 1995.

Bill Cowher hired him with the Steelers in 1996, and he eventually became offensive coordinator.

For a while, the Bills were considering an experienced head coach after letting former Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams go after three seasons. Jauron and Jim Fassel were at the top of that list. Then thoughts shifted to offense.

The offense slumped badly in 2003 under coordinator Kevin Gilbride, dropping statistically to 30th in the NFL, after ranking No. 11 the previous year. Buffalo won its first two games of the season, outscoring opponents 69-17, then lost seven of its next nine outings. After those first two victories, the Bills scored 20 or more points just four times and averaged only 15.2 points a game for the season.

Buffalo's 243 points for the season represented the second-fewest for the franchise in a 16-game campaign and came after an '02 season in which the Bills scored 379 points. That plummet mirrored the performance of quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who will return next year.

The 11-year veteran threw 11 touchdown passes, had 12 interceptions and posted an efficiency rating of 73.0. That was Bledsoe's lowest rating since the '95 season. The touchdown passes were the fewest Bledsoe has thrown in any full season. He had only one game with 300 passing yards and just three outings with 250 or more yards. Over the last nine games, Bledsoe had one game in which he threw for over 200 yards and five in which he had 150 yards or less.

Mularkey made effective players out of Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox, and the key for Buffalo in 2004 will be how well he works with Bledsoe.

Buffalo dramatically improved its defense in 2003, with a number of acquisitions that resulted in a No. 2 overall ranking, but the offensive woes scuttled the season. There is, though, playoff-caliber talent on hand if Mularkey can get Bledsoe turned around.

Mularkey is expected to offer the defensive coordinator job to current assistant coach Dick LeBeau. He may also pursue current Steelers quarterback coach Tom Clements to be his offensive coordinator.

The Bills also interviewed defensive coordinators Romeo Crennel of New England, Lovie Smith of St. Louis and Buffalo's Jerry Gray.

Mularkey had interviewed for head coaching positions in recent years and, last January, was offered the Bengals' job ahead of Marvin Lewis. For contractual and personal reasons, Mularkey turned down the offer.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Senior writer Len Pasquarelli contributed to this report.