Kelly, K-Gun are out of Bills' ammo

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Breaking up is hard to do.

Especially for a successful NFL team.

But the Buffalo Bills are facing that prospect after being knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars last week.

Two days after the game, center Kent Hull, one of the eight players who stayed together for the team's four trips to the Super Bowl, announced his retirement at an emotional ceremony.

"I've decided to close this chapter in my life," Hull said. "It's been a great ride for me. I've had an opportunity to play with Hall of Fame players, a Hall of Fame coach and, without a doubt, the greatest fans in the world."

Hull's departure is a signal that the Bills are ready to redesign their offense.

Quarterback Jim Kelly is likely to be next. Going out with Kelly will be the K-Gun offense, Buffalo's version of the no-huddle. And the team's two top offensive coaches, coordinator Tom Bresnahan and quarterback coach Jim Shofner, are likely to go with him.

Like the run-and-shoot, the no-huddle as a base offense is going out of fashion in the NFL. Teams have caught up with it, and even when it works, it doesn't take a lot of time off the clock, putting the team's defense on the field too long.

It's not official that Kelly is gone. But all the signals are there.

For him to return, Kelly said, "All the circumstances have to be right."

He added: "I have to feel comfortable. I'm not talking dollar-wise. I'm talking personnel-wise -- where this team plans on going and where this offense plans on going."

But the dollars count, too. Kelly had a meeting with owner Ralph Wilson before the season when he was threatening to sit out an exhibition game if he didn't get a new deal.

Wilson's version of the meeting was that he'd be fair to Kelly after the season. Kelly's version was that Wilson guaranteed Kelly a $6 million-a-year salary after the year.

The Bills are unlikely to pay Kelly $6 million a year. Neither is any other team. Kelly, who turns 37 next month, threw a career-high 19 interceptions and a career-low 14 touchdown passes.

That means Kelly will be shopping his services, and the Bills will have to decide whether to go with Todd Collins at quarterback or find an alternative.

One veteran who's willing to stay in a reduced role is Thurman Thomas, who'll probably become a third-down back in the Marcus Allen mode.

"There has to be some changes, you can't get around that," Thomas said. "We didn't have a single identity of an offense that we wanted to be in this year. Hopefully, they'll make some changes. Whether it will be personnel or coaches, that remains to be seen, but we do have to find a direction to go."

They were in flux last year because the coaches tried to ditch the K-Gun, but brought it back at Kelly's behest.

There's also the question of how long Marv Levy wants to coach. At age 71, he looks and acts 10 years younger (he's listed as 68 in the league's official record and fact manual). If he goes at least two more years, he'd surpass George Halas, who stepped down for the final time in 1967 at age 72.

But it's not easy to keep winning while replacing some of the older stars who made the team a contender in the first place.

That's the challenge that Levy and general manager John Butler face as they close the book on the Kelly era.

The coaching derby

Bobby Ross' departure from San Diego is not good news for Dan Reeves.

The Atlanta Falcons may well decide they'd rather hire Ross than Reeves. Ross ran a successful program in Atlanta when he won the national championship at Georgia Tech.

Without Ross in the picture, Reeves seemed a sure shot to get the Atlanta job. Now, it could be a close call.

Pushing Ross out was a major gamble by Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, who clashed with Ross because they're both successful men who wanted to do things their own way.

Beathard didn't like some of Ross' assistant coaches and didn't think Ross gave young players enough playing time.

JTC Beathard won that battle because he's the boss. But it's a risk because there's no guarantee Beathard's going to find another coach as good as Ross.

The decision Beathard makes will be one to watch. He struck gold back in 1981 when he found Joe Gibbs when he was an obscure assistant coach. If he finds another Gibbs, nobody will care that Ross departed.

If he doesn't find another good coach and Ross wins in his new job, Beathard will be on the hot seat.

One complicating factor is that there are no hot candidates out there. When Jim Fassel, who has a skimpy resume, emerges as a leading candidate, it's a sign that pickings are slim in the coaching ranks.

The other major news on the coaching front is that Don Shula seems ready to return to the game.

Although he denied reports he had contacted the New York Giants and Jets -- he said he contacted the Giants only to recommend one of his former assistants, Gary Stephens -- he didn't take his hat out of the ring.

He said: "I'm not actively seeking to get back into coaching at this time."

Now there's a non-denial denial from a savvy veteran who's used to dealing with the media. Notice he didn't say he's retired or will never coach again. He may not be "actively seeking" a job, but he'd probably jump at the right opportunity.

If Bill Parcells doesn't wind up taking the Jets job, it'll be interesting to see if the Jets go after Shula. He'd be the type of big name who'd be easy to sell in New York, and New York is the kind of stage that would appeal to Shula.

The Manning derby

When Peyton Manning torched Northwestern in the Citrus Bowl, was that his last college game?

Manning can keep the scouts guessing for a long time because he's graduating from Tennessee this year. That means he can wait until April 4 to declare for this year's draft or could wait for the supplemental draft.

The Jets have the first pick, but there's no indication what they'll do since nobody knows who'll be making the pick.

The Jets have to decide whether to take Manning, have Neil O'Donnell tutor him for a couple of years and then dump O'Donnell and his big contract, or trade Manning for a king's ransom.

It'll be the first big decision the new regime has to make.

Power trip

Add Ray Rhodes' name to the list of coaches who say they need more power.

After the Philadelphia Eagles were eliminated from the playoffs, Rhodes said, "I will have more say in personnel. I'm not going to 'try' or any of that. I'm going to have more say."

The Eagles management countered by saying Rhodes has all the power he needs in personnel decisions. "Nothing can happen without Ray's approval," said Eagles senior vice president Joe Banner.

This apparently means Rhodes wants the general manager's title or wants to dump Dick Daniels, who runs the personnel department, and bring in his own man.

It's rumored that one candidate would be former Browns vice president Mike Lombardi. Considering the way Lombardi and former coach Bill Belichick left the Ravens hamstrung under the salary cap, owner Jeff Lurie might not be keen on that idea.

Rookie of the Year

The Arizona Cardinals had a no-lose decision when they picked Simeon Rice over Jonathan Ogden in the draft last April, leaving Ogden for the Ravens.

Both became immediate starters, but the Cardinals still think Rice was the better choice after he was named Defensive Rookie of the Year because he makes more plays than an offensive lineman.

Of Ogden, Cardinals executive Bob Ferguson said, "We loved him as a player. But at the end of five years, he's going to want $3 million. After five years, he still hasn't sacked the quarterback or scored many touchdowns. He would have been a tackle here. He's a guard there. Do you pay your starting guard $2 million? I don't believe in that."

Ogden probably will move to tackle next year for the Ravens because Tony Jones is likely to depart.

Pub Date: 1/05/97

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