Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. fired head coach Wade Phillips for refusing to dismiss special teams coach Ronnie Jones, the team confirmed today.
Phillips’ firing Sunday night followed the Bills’ 8-8 season, the first time since 1997 they missed the playoffs. It also comes on the heels of the dismissal of General Manager John Butler last month.
The Bills have not announced replacements for either Phillips or Butler, though ex-Pittsburgh Steelers executive Tom Donahoe is considered the leading candidate for Butler’s job.
‘He’ll Go Down With the Ship’
Phillips’ firing with one year remaining on his contract was the result of his refusal to release Jones, the target of frequent criticism during the season, Wilson said in a statement.
“Buffalo special teams’ record was among the worst in the National Football League last season,” he said. “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.”
Phillips reportedly was in San Francisco today and unavailable for immediate comment.
Bills’ defensive end Marcellus Wiley heard the rumors swirl this morning and stopped by Ralph Wilson Stadium to offer Phillips his support, 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.”
Bills Went 29-19 in Three Seasons
Phillips and the Bills’ entire offense took much of the blame for a series of Bills’ late-season losses: the Bills lost four of their last five games and missed the playoffs for only the third time in 13 years.
Phillips and Wilson met at the owner’s home in Palm Beach, Fla., last week. While Phillips refused to discuss their conversation afterward, Wilson was noncommittal when asked whether Phillips would be back.
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 Tennessee Titans.
“Wade has done a good job for us, reaching the playoffs two out of the last three seasons,” Wilson’s statement said. “But I felt the dismissal of the special teams coach was imperative for the improvement of our team.”
Father: NFL Coaching Is Tough Task
Bum Phillips, an ex-NFL head 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.”