In a perfect world the Bills would not have needed a new defensive coordinator. Mike Pettine would have stayed with the Bills and the coaching staff would have continued to work together and maybe even help break a 14 season playoff drought someday soon.
Mike Pettine did leave to take the head coaching position with the Cleveland Browns and the Bills had a hole to fill. The vacancy was filled in little more than a day and not by pushing someone from within into the role. The Bills grabbed a former head coach in Jim Schwartz to take over the defense.
Now the fact that Schwartz comes with name recognition in no way means the defense will be great. But it is, to my eyes, another example of the progress the Bills have made in polishing up their reputation.
There was a time really not all that long ago when the Bills would be looking to hire people and it felt like there was a certain cut of candidate who they just could not talk with. That perception could have been wrong, but that's how it felt to me. Does an exhaustive search for a new General Manager landing on Buddy Nix ring any bells?
Russ Brandon, Doug Whaley and Doug Marrone have steered the Bills clear of those rocks. Marrone was a sought after candidate when the Bills hired him last year. They paid Pettine handsomely, I'm told he was one of the highest paid coordinators in the league, to step away from the shadow of Rex Ryan. A season later Pettine is a head coach. The job of defensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills suddenly looks like a pretty good gig. There is a nice stockpile of talent on that side of the ball and the last guy to have the job spun it into a head coaching shot in one season.
That gets you a different caliber of candidate and that's one of the reasons I wasn't too bent out of shape about Pettine leaving. Like I said, I'd rather he stayed. The defense was working well, especially against the pass and if it ain't broke, well, you know. Though it is not entirely accurate to say that Pettine worked a miracle with the same talent Dave Wannstedt had the previous season. Of course significant pieces were the same but some key additions helped Pettine in 2013. Kiki Alonso is the sort of linebacker the Bills have needed for years. Manny Lawson did a nice job on the outside. Jerry Hughes came out of nowhere to get 10 sacks. Nikkel Robey was a find as a slot corner. Even Allan Branch gave the Bills better depth on the defensive line than they had a year ago.
None of this is meant to disrespect the job Pettine did with the Bills. It is merely to point out that the players have the biggest impact and Pettine had some key additions to work with in his only season here.
So Jim Schwartz lands in a pretty good spot as I see it. Don't get too hung up trying to figure out how this is going to go based on how his defenses have ranked other years. It really doesn't mean anything. Remember, Wannstedet came to Buffalo with a bunch of high rankings in his suitcase and we know how that went.