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Friday, January 13, 2006
Plot continues to thicken after Mularkey leaves

ESPN.com news services

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Coach Mike Mularkey's abrupt resignation came as a shock to the Buffalo Bills. An even bigger surprise might be who refused to rule himself out as a candidate for the job -- Marv Levy.

SportsNation on Mularkey
In his second year, Mike Mularkey started strong, receiving a 91 percent approval rating after a Week 1 win over Houston. But by the end of the season, he only managed a 34 percent rating after a Week 16 win over Cincinnati.
• Mike Mularkey's weekly chart

A week after taking over as the Bills general manager, and despite owner Ralph Wilson insisting Levy wouldn't be considered to replace Mularkey, the 80-year-old Hall of Fame coach declined to say he wasn't interested.

"I really, sort of, don't even want to comment," Levy said Friday at a news conference. "I can't answer it because I want to talk the whole situation over. But we're going to address it swiftly."

Levy added that he didn't plan on being the coach when he accepted the GM's job, but said the situation has changed with Mularkey's unexpected departure.

His comments, however, contradicted what Wilson stated minutes earlier after announcing Mularkey's resignation. Asked whether Levy, who was standing off to the side, would be a candidate, Wilson said: "Absolutely not."

Wilson had a chance to restate his position after listening to Levy, but declined to do so.

What might seem curious to those hearing Levy contradict his boss is becoming par for the course for an operation that can't get its story straight since Wilson fired president/general manager Tom Donahoe last week.

Upon luring Levy out of retirement, Wilson and Levy couldn't agree on a title before eventually settling on general manager/football operations.

On Friday, Levy said that he didn't plan on being the coach when he accepted the GM's job, but said the situation has changed with Mularkey's unexpected departure. His comments, however, contradicted what Wilson stated minutes earlier after announcing Mularkey's resignation. Asked whether Levy, who was standing off to the side, would be a candidate, Wilson said: "Absolutely not."

Now comes Mularkey's resignation, which came eight days after Wilson said Mularkey would be returning.

Something changed, Wilson said, when Mularkey first approached him Wednesday to inform the owner of his intention to resign.

The two met again Thursday when Wilson accepted Mularkey's resignation.

"Of course I was completely surprised by his statement. He seemed very firm about it," Wilson said. "It's an abrupt setback. But we're going to move forward."

Wilson said Mularkey expressed concern about Bills fans who criticized him last year.

And despite Wilson's assurances, Mularkey's future beyond next season remained in doubt. Mularkey dismissed five assistants last week and his uncertain status made it difficult for the coach to hire experienced replacements.

"It's mind-boggling," Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes said Thursday on ESPN Radio. "I don't really understand what's going on, but I thought [Mularkey] did some things well and there were a lot of things a lot of the guys didn't agree with. I don't think that he was a bad coach.

"When you come into the city of Buffalo people expect you to win not later, not two or three years from now. People want you to win now. So it's a lot of pressure. … As a man I will always respect him because of his position and how he treated us as a whole."

Mularkey leaves the job with three years, at about $1 million annually, remaining on the five-year contract he signed in 2004. In his two seasons, Mularkey compiled a 14-18 record, including a disappointing 5-11 mark in 2005, when many pundits expected the Bills to contend for a playoff berth.

Sources said that, while family considerations played a large role in Mularkey's decision, his views on the future of the franchise were also a significant factor. Since the end to a dismal season, the Buffalo organization has undergone a quick overhaul, and people in the NFL have questioned the Bills' direction.

A source close to Mularkey told ESPN.com's John Clayton the primary reason for Mularkey's resignation was professional. According to the source, Mularkey didn't think the way the Bills were being set up would create an environment in which he could be successful.

Mularkey was 14-18 in two seasons and had three years left on his contract. The move leaves the Bills searching for their third coach in five years.

Not known is why Mularkey didn't raise his concerns after he met with Wilson twice last week.

"I did not reach this decision lightly," Mularkey said in a statement released by the Bills. "But after much thought, I have concluded that for my own personal reasons and in the best interests of my family, on balance, outweigh any future benefits that may accrue to me by continuing in this position."

Mularkey did not return a message left by The Associated Press.

Wilson and Levy declined to list any potential candidates or provide details as to the type of coach they're seeking.

Among the early front-runners -- besides, perhaps, Levy -- are Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, who completed his fifth season with Buffalo; recently fired New Orleans coach Jim Haslett; Dick Jauron, Detroit's interim coach; and Chicago defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.

Haslett has ties to the Bills, a former linebacker who played for the team from 1979-85.

Reached by telephone Friday, Haslett said he's interested but has not yet been contacted.

"Obviously, I have great interest in the job, there's a lot of good things about it," Haslett said. "I know the organization, I know Mr. Wilson. And it's a great place to live."

Mularkey's resignation, while unusual, is not unprecedented. Bobby Ross abruptly walked out as the Detroit Lions coach midway through the 2000 season. Former Bills coach Lou Saban twice quit on the team in the 1960s and early 1970s.

A former NFL tight end, Mularkey was a first-time head coach who joined Buffalo after serving as the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator. In his first season, the Bills rebounded from a 1-5 start to finish 9-7.

ESPN.com senior writers Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton and ESPN's Chris Mortensen contributed to the report. An Associated Press report also was used.