Tuesday, January 9
Phillips refused to fire special teams coach

Wade Phillips
Wade Phillips had one year left on his contract.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Wade Phillips was fired as coach of the Buffalo Bills for refusing to dismiss his special teams coach after an 8-8 season.

This was the first time since 1997 the Bills have missed the playoffs.

The dismissal by owner Ralph Wilson Jr. on Sunday night comes after general manager John Butler was fired last month.

Phillips had one year remaining on his contract. His dismissal was tied to his refusal to release Ronnie Jones, who was in his first year as special teams coach and was frequently criticized during the season.

"Buffalo special teams' record was among the worst in the National Football League last season," Wilson said Monday. "I felt we needed a change and that my request was reasonable ... I did not want to release Wade but his refusal left me with no option."

QB controversy didn't help
It's unfortunate Wade Phillips has been fired. Much of the decision must have revolved around the quarterback controversy that started just before the playoffs a year ago.

The Bills QB situation didn't allow them to be as successful as they could have been this year. It wasn't all about the special teams changes they wanted to make last year and this year -- the Doug Flutie-Rob Johnson mess has taken its toll on this team.

You have to let Flutie at least compete for the job; it's not in the best interest of the team to eliminate one part of the competition. Johnson still could be a winning QB in this league and he could be around for 10 more years. Maybe Johnson would have beaten Flutie out for the job, or maybe he wouldn't have; but to make it a foregone conclusion is unproductive and irresponsible.

The owner, the GM and the head coach must have had different philosophies regarding the QB situation and how things should play out. John Butler left this year, and now Phillips has been fired. There have been decisions made in Buffalo over the last couple years that, from a football standpoint, didn't make a lot of sense. I have a hard time believing Phillips was the architect of all of those decisions.

--Joe Theismann, ESPN

Here's how the firing went down, according to sources.

Wilson telephoned Phillips, who was in San Francisco to attend the East-West Shrine all-star practices, to inquire about the status of special teams coach Jones.

In a meeting the previous week, Wilson made it clear that he wanted Jones dismissed from the staff. Based on sources familiar with their conversation, here is a near-verbatim exchange between the owner and coach:

"What about Ronnie Jones?" Wilson asked.

"I don't know yet," Phillips said.

"I want him gone," Wilson said.

"I'm going to reassign him," Phillips said.

"I want him gone."

"If I have to replace any of my coaches, I'm not going to coach," Phillips said.

"Then you're not going to coach."

With that, Wilson dismissed Phillips and Jones. The rest of the coaching staff remains under contract to Buffalo until Wilson makes a decision on a new general manager to replace Butler.

Wilson has been in discussions with Tom Donohoe about his GM job, and league sources say he also has been using a headhunting firm to screen other candidates, including Joe Mendes, who was most recently with the Washington Redskins as a negotiator.

Ironically, Jones was named to replace veteran special teams coach Bruce DeHaven, who was fired in the wake of Buffalo's "Music City Miracle" playoff loss to Tennessee last January. Forever infamous in NFL playoff lore, Kevin Dyson scored on a 75-yard return off a lateral from Frank Wycheck on a kick return with three seconds left in the Titans' 22-16 win over the Bills in an AFC wild card game.

Phillips arrived from San Francisco on Monday night with his wife, Laurie. And at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Phillips thanked the players and staff for their support.

"First of all I'd like to thank Mr. Ralph Wilson for giving me the opportunity to coach the Buffalo Bills," Phillips said. "I'm especially proud of my coaching staff and proud of my players. I want to also thank a great general manager, John Butler, who was a big factor in those wins for us."

Bills defensive end Marcellus Wiley stopped by Ralph Wilson Stadium, not knowing the coach was out of town.

"As everybody's seeing, he'll go down with the ship," Wiley said. "It's unfortunate that he had to lose his job. It was to no avail."

Phillips and the Bills' entire offense took much of the blame for a series of late-season losses: The Bills lost four of their last five games and missed the playoffs for only the third time in 13 years.

The Bills were 29-19 in three seasons under Phillips. Buffalo was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in 1998 by the Miami Dolphins and in 1999 by the Titans.

"Wade has done a good job for us, reaching the playoffs two out of the last three seasons," Wilson said. "But I felt the dismissal of the special teams coach was imperative for the improvement of our team."

Kicker Steve Christie was critical of the Bills' special team strategy this season, wondering why the team insisted on squib kicks.

Christie also told The Canadian Press last week that the quarterback controversy between Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie had split the locker room.

Bum Phillips, an ex-NFL coach and Wade Phillips' father, said he hadn't heard of the firing and hadn't spoken with his son.

"We got a weekly newspaper down here so I don't hear it all," Phillips said from his home in Goliad, Texas. "I haven't talked to Wade. I figure that's his business and he'll take care of it."

The elder Phillips said coaching in the NFL is a tough business.

"There ain't but two kinds of coaches in the NFL," Phillips said. "Them that's been fired and them that's going to be fired."

Information from the Associated Press and ESPN's Chris Mortensen was used in this story.

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