The Buffalo News will honor longtime columnist Larry Felser this week by running a Felser column each day. Today’s column originally appeared March 8, 1991.
March came in with a lion’s share of good news for Marv Levy.
For one thing, Marv will no longer have to worry about getting along on his social security check when he reaches 65 at the start of the 1993 season.
For another, he may make Bills history. No Buffalo head coach ever had a continuous run of more than five years.
By the time Levy’s new contract expires after the ‘95 season, Jim Kelly will be officially in middle age.
Levy’s contract extension was good news for the Bills, too, and their fans.
Not long ago, Frank Layden, president of the Utah Jazz, explained why his team had never finished low enough to be involved in the NBA draft lottery.
“Take the successful franchises, regardless of sport,” said Layden. “They all have or had the strong decision makers on top. They had patience. Then look at the teams who are in the lottery year after year. See how often they changed coaches.”
When Levy replaced Hank Bullough at mid-season in 1986, he was the fourth Bills coach in 4½ seasons. The team had a history of instability, even during winning times.
The only other era in which it won three straight division championships, 1964-66, it was done with two coaches.
Lou Saban left after the 1965 season and was replaced by Joe Collier.
That instability contributed heavily to the franchise’s periodic disintegrations.
It would be surprising if anyone nominated Levy as one of the all-time great coaches, but he was the right man for the Bills’ situation.
Granted, he has been provided with the most compelling talent in the team’s history, but sometimes getting out of the way of the talent is a skill in itself.
Levy’s manner of dealing with Ralph Wilson, a mercurial fellow, is another undervalued skill. It seems to come easily to Marv.
He and Wilson are a great deal alike in some ways, urbane men of gentility. The owner obviously enjoys the company of the coach. Few, if any, of Levy’s predecessors had such a comfortable relationship with Wilson.
Privately, football people within the organization admit that Levy can be stubborn to the point of exasperation.
Yet when it came to the decision on the Bills’ no-huddle offense, which, in effect, put the attack in the hands of Kelly, Levy finally endorsed the suggestion of offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda.
It was a radical departure. Many NFL coaches, particularly those with Levy’s conservative tendencies, would never have agreed.
When the coaching clock was about to strike midnight for Bullough in 1986, there were knowing snickers throughout pro football. “How soon is Levy going to be brought in?” was the constant question.
Bill Polian was the team’s new general manager and everyone knew he was a creature of Levy, having been brought into pro football by his mentor at Montreal of the CFL, and then employed by him with Kansas City and the Chicago Blitz of the USFL.
The coming of Levy was predictable, but it was also appropriate. His record at Kansas City had excited no one, but, as it turned out, he was what Buffalo needed.
Would a dominant, strong-headed coach have been able to co-exist successfully with stars like Kelly and Bruce Smith? I doubt it.
Levy has been criticized in this space from time to time, mostly because there was something to criticize.
He has not taken some of it well. We don’t double date, but getting along with me is not part of his job description.
I had serious doubts about his ability, not to advance the Bills from Point A to Point B, but beyond that to Point C. He reached Point C during the last week in January. I salute him for that.
Wilson’s salute was more tangible.
The owner’s commitment to the coach is also a commitment to stability and to the ultimate NFL victory for the Bills.