BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone suddenly has a big hole to fill at defensive coordinator with Mike Pettine leaving to take over the Cleveland Browns.
With Pettine hired on Thursday, Marrone is forced to enact the contingency plan the team began preparing once Cleveland honed in on his key assistant.
"We have a plan in place," Marrone said, in a statement released by the team. "I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Mike on becoming the Browns new head coach and thank him for all of his time and efforts with our team this past season. He did an excellent job of improving our defense, and we wish him the best."
Marrone did not reveal a timetable or list of potential candidates.
Depending on whether any Bills assistants follow Pettine to Cleveland, Buffalo has several in-house assistants to consider, most notably linebackers coach Jim O'Neil and defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson.
O'Neil has spent the past five seasons working under Pettine, including the first four with the New York Jets. Henderson is the most experienced, having split 29 years as a coach at the NFL and college levels, including stints as a defensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions in 2006 and Jets, 2004-05.
Replacing Pettine is not something Marrone was anticipating a year after luring the former Jets defensive coordinator to Buffalo to become the most-high profile member of his first staff.
Pettine's departure is a significant blow to a defense that emerged as the Bills strength last season. And the loss has the potential of under-cutting much of the progress the Bills hoped would carry over into next season after a 6-10 finish that extended the NFL's longest active playoff drought to 14 seasons.
Continuity also becomes an issue for a defense set to be led by a fourth coordinator in as many years. Pettine succeeded Dave Wannstedt, who was fired along with Chan Gailey and his staff a year ago. Wannstedt replaced George Edwards, who struggled during his two years as coordinator.
Pettine, in one season in Buffalo, played a considerable role in transforming the Bills once-porous defense into an aggressive unit that finished second in the NFL with a franchise-record 57 sacks. Though the Bills were inconsistent against the run, they still finished 10th in the NFL in fewest yards allowed — Buffalo's best ranking since finishing second in 2004.