Jim Hostler’s title as the Buffalo Bills’ new senior offensive assistant is ambiguous.
A more unwieldy but better characterization of his job might be: Right-Hand Man to the Offensive Coordinator and Advance Man for Game Planning.
Whatever you want to call him, the 47-year-old Hostler represents a potentially significant help to Bills offensive chief Nathaniel Hackett.
“We’re going to use Jim in this role,” explained Bills head coach Doug Marrone. “Here’s someone who’s always working ahead for us, a day ahead, schematically during the year. He’s someone who has experience at all the skill positions. He has coached receivers, coached quarterbacks. He will have his input in helping young players progress in those groups.”
Marrone said the situation is similar to what he had in New Orleans, where he was the Saints’ offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2008.
“Pete Carmichael was the quarterback coach,” Marrone said. “Johnny Morton worked in the passing game and kept us ahead, so we never felt like we were caught behind. Having someone like Jim come aboard is great for Coach Hackett and myself and great for us on offense.”
Hostler, 47, comes to Buffalo after six years as receivers coach for the Baltimore Ravens. He interviewed for the Ravens’ vacant offensive coordinator job last month, but Baltimore instead hired Gary Kubiak, who had been fired as head coach of the Houston Texans.
Hostler should fit in with the Bills’ staff. He worked with Marrone as a New York Jets aide in 2003 and 2004. The offensive coordinator on that staff was Paul Hackett, father of the Bills’ coordinator. One of Hostler’s main NFL mentors was Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy, who also learned a lot of what he knows about offense from Paul Hackett.
It’s not uncommon for a team to hire a “senior assistant” to help with game planning. Last season there were seven teams that essentially had that kind of guy, although the job titles varied. They included Baltimore, Kansas City, New England, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa Bay.
Hostler says the role was attractive to him.
“I think it’s a chance to not be the coordinator but have insight into the coordination of the offense, not just coaching a position,” he said. “I had a lot of it in Baltimore. I had a lot of responsibility in the passing game, but I also coached a position.”
Hostler described the kind of advance planning he will do.
“It’s the ability to be ahead of Nathaniel, give him a chance to really prepare for games,” he said. “When he gets to the game-planning aspect of it, already having a foundation of what the opponent does. Here’s what our base stuff might be, and give him a little bit of a foresight into what’s already there, instead of him having to work all that out by himself week to week. That’ll take some pressure off him and give him more freedom at the end of the week to think about the game plan and not worry about what’s going to go on with the next plan.”
Hostler both played and coached at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the alma mater of Bills great Jim Haslett. He said legendary IUP coach Frank Cignetti Sr. was his biggest influence in the game.
“I played for him and worked for him,” Hostler said. “What I know as a coach, that’s where my foundation comes from. He was just elected into the College Football Hall of Fame. He’s an unbelievable coach, man.”
Hostler’s Western Pennsylvania roots helped him get his break into the NFL in 2000, when he was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs.
The McCarthy connection helped him move to the Saints. Then he spent two years with the Jets and three with San Francisco, from 2005 to 2007.
“Offensively, it comes from Mike McCarthy, Jimmy Raye, Paul Hackett, Norv Turner,” Hostler said of the NFL coaches who most influenced him. “Those are all coordinators I worked under who taught me how to be a coach. Not just plays but systematic thought process, developing people, understanding defenses, how to attack people. Those guys have all coached a long time. I got a lot of knowledge from those guys.
“My familiarity with this offense here and with Nathaniel, obviously working for his dad, that helps.”
Hostler was offensive coordinator for one season with the 49ers. They went 5-11, were forced to start four different quarterbacks and finished 32nd in the NFL on offense. Hostler says he does not think his successful tenure in Baltimore “rehabilitated” his image.
“I don’t think I ever really thought about rehabilitating,” he said. “We were 32nd in the league two years prior to that and Mike McCarthy became head coach of the Green Bay Packers. When Norv was there, I think we were 27th, and then he became head coach of the San Diego Chargers. So I never looked at it like it was all about me.
“I was the one who took that bullet, which was my responsibility, and rightfully so, don’t get me wrong. But I think people in this business understand. Just like you guys watched four quarterbacks play last year. It’s hard to play with four quarterbacks in a season, and we went through that in San Francisco.”
Asked what he learned from the Ravens’ Super Bowl season of 2012, Hostler stressed the importance of a collective effort.
“There’s a lot more to it than just one or two players,” he said.
“There’s a lot of aspects that have to go right to win Super Bowls. First it starts with players and coaches, and it’s chemistry and then it’s momentum. There’s a lot to it. All those things have to line up for you to ultimately get there and win the Super Bowl.”