Midseason change different from '86

Coaching changes in the middle of the season have not taken place all that often in Bills franchise history. Proof of that comes in the fact that the midseason change made this past week was the first since 1986 when head coach Hank Bullough was replaced by Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy.

Though that coaching change took place after the ninth game of the season as well, and the record then (2-7) was comparable to this season (3-6), the circumstances were far different.

"It was a move that had to be made," said Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. "It was a move that we all wanted. We were happy Marv Levy was on board."

Buffalo's players in 1986, which included all-time leading receiver Andre Reed, were glad a change was made.

"We didn't win many games," said Reed. "There were a lot of different circumstances. We were rebuilding. There were so many things going on and the year before we were 2-14. Of course we were excited we felt it was a new start."

Levy was hired from outside the organization as head coach and there was no interim in his title, as was the case this week when defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was chosen for the job.

"I think Marv had already been well established in Montreal and in Kansas City," said Reed. "I think we all knew of him in a way to a certain point. From day one he told us what his philosophy was and what he expected. Marv was never a rah-rah guy, but he was all about character."

Buffalo's players this week did credit Fewell for being straightforward about what he expected from the players for the final seven games of the season.

"Perry came in and he was very stern," said safety George Wilson. "He was very open and up front about what his expectations were for each and every guy in the locker room. What he was going to expect of guys in practice. He asked for questions, feedback or anything that guys may have to say. He started off on a very good note and got the tone set pretty much how he wants it to be."

Reed believes as important as it is for Fewell to chart a new course for the players, it's also on the older players to set a tone themselves.

"The players now have to feel like it's a new start," said Reed. "Any time somebody new comes in that's the attitude you need to have. You can only do so much preparing to win football games. You've got to have the right attitude when you play. It's really up to the veterans on that football team to get these young guys in the right frame of mind. And the vets have to have the right attitude playing and the younger players follow suit."

For the Bills of '86 it was easy to move on. They knew that Levy was their coach moving forward, even beyond the seven games that remained in their season that year. The same cannot be said for Buffalo's current roster, but Reed doesn't believe the players should concern themselves with something they cannot control.

"Any time there is a change especially in the middle of the season there are going to be questions as to why it happened and if it was the time that it was supposed to happen," Reed said. "There were expectations that were very high this season. They were high on the quarterback, high on adding Terrell Owens and it just hasn't panned out the way they wanted, but they have a half a season that they can salvage.

"I think all of them now, the whole team has to realize that they can salvage the season by making something positive of it and let management take its course at the end of the season. As a player you have to worry about playing on Sunday, and you have to believe in what's going on."

Of course capturing success in the form of wins is difficult under a new coach in the middle of a season. Under Levy in '86 the Bills won their first game, but went just 2-5 overall to finish the year. Still the '86 Bills were encouraged by what the future held.

"It energized us," said Kelly. "We knew that we had some talented players and only needed a few more pieces. We only won two more games that year and finished 4-12, but we knew we were on the right path."

"We were still rebuilding," said Reed. "And you just have to go out and play. And like Perry said, winning a football game doesn't cure everything, but it helps. When you win a game you can build on that. You can't build on losing."

"If they win this weekend everybody is going to look good because they won a football game with the coaching change, but where do they go after that? It's really up to the veterans to get these guys going and salvage the season."

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