After taking the job as Assistant Head and Inside Linebackers coach for the Bills on Friday, Dave Wannstedt spent the weekend turning over his briefcase. Replacing his University of Pittsburgh files with new Buffalo Bills files, the 38-year coaching veteran has been through this drill before.
Though he has spent time on just about every rung of the coaching ladder, being away from the NFL for the past six years has given him a new found fervor to dive into his newest role with Buffalo.
“The positive is it’s been six years since I’ve been back in the NFL,” Wannstedt told Buffalobills.com. “So there will be a little bit of a transition, there’s no doubt about that from the standpoint of getting back in the groove a little bit. I’m excited to see what our division opponents are doing. I know the philosophy that Chan (Gailey) has and the game plan that he has for this team to win. I’m excited about trying to just be a part of that number one and trying to help make that happen.”
When Wannstedt made his first trip up to Buffalo last week at Gailey’s request, he didn’t need to sell Gailey. The mutual respect the two coaching veterans shared was obvious. Wannstedt needed to sit down with Gailey’s defensive staff to see if his defensive philosophies would effectively mesh with those of defensive coordinator George Edwards and his assistants.
“I was just curious to spend some time with him and discuss just how he structured things on defense during the course of the week and how the game plans were laid out. His thinking philosophy-wise,” said Wannstedt. “Where he thought they were at defensively in terms of strengths, weaknesses. That was probably the depth of it as much as anything with George.”
Wannstedt and Edwards then sat in the film room and watched a couple of games during his initial visit.
“He was explaining to me what the calls were and what we were trying to get done with our fronts, coverages and pressures. Really it was just to see kind of where they were at and what their expectations were and what they were actually doing on defense.
“A lot of people can tell you things, but until you sit down with people and actually see it on tape sometimes a lot of things are brought to light. I was very impressed. They have a very good defensive staff. George has got a good plan.
“I walked out of there feeling very comfortable and I just wanted to reiterate to them that I’m just coming on board to help any way I can with no other agenda other than jumping in like the rest of them to do whatever we can do to help improve our defense that’s what I’ll try to get done.”
Wannstedt’s transition figures to be a smooth one having not only worked with Gailey during his time as the head coach in Miami, but also with Bills outside linebackers coach Bob Sanders. Now he and Sanders will be collaborating on a daily basis with Wannstedt handling the inside linebackers in addition to his Assistant head coaching duties.
“There is a lot of carry over with some of the positions depending on the defenses that we’re calling and the assignments that they have so the inside guys and the outside guy will have to be able to communicate back and forth and that’s what’s exciting about it too,” he said. “Bob was coaching the linebackers with me back with the Dolphins. So we speak the same language and there’s a lot of carry over.”
He believes he shares some of that same language with Edwards as well as both have been in a lot of the same places concerning their NFL coaching histories spending time in Dallas and Miami.
At the close of the 2010 campaign Gailey openly discussed a move to being a more multiple-front defense with possible weekly shifts from 3-4 to 4-3 fronts and vice versa depending on the opponent. Wannstedt is on board, but also recognizes that this offseason will demand a lot of planning and decision making from the defensive staff in determining their chief direction.
“I think it will change a little bit week to week depending on what you’re trying to defend,” said Wannstedt. “But from the standpoint of what is going to be the foundation of our defense and in critical times what is going to be our bread and butter and what we’ll line up and execute and win with, I think those are the decisions in talking with George and his staff that we’re in the process of right now in the offseason.”
That’s why Wannstedt will not be at the Senior Bowl with the rest of the Bills coaching staff this week. He has to get caught up on Buffalo’s current personnel and get a better feel for the strengths and weaknesses of the unit that he initially went over with Edwards in their first sit down more than a week ago. That will enable Wannstedt to provide the input that Gailey and Edwards are looking to get from him.
“I’m going get in the office this week and get settled with the whole change over and transition and get to some things that I need to get done,” he said.
The veteran defensive mind will be doing what coaches do this time of year. He’ll be grinding on game tape and making his evaluations. So when his new colleagues return from Mobile at the end of the week he will be ready to offer whatever is asked of him to help improve a Bills defense that has to make significant strides in the offseason.
“I’ve always believed and I know that Chan does and George does and we’re all on the same page is if you’re playing as hard as you can play and if you know what your assignment is you will play good defense every week,” he said. “More times than not when teams don’t play it’s because of a lack of execution or guys aren’t playing at the level where they need to be playing. This is when you go back and look at all your film from last year and decide from a personnel standpoint what we’re going to hang our hat on.”