The Buffalo Bills coaching staff has a big hole to fill at defensive coordinator after Leslie Frazier informed the team he is taking a year off from coaching but plans to return for the 2024 season.
Speaking at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Tuesday, coach Sean McDermott cited what was a “long and hard season” in saying Frazier informed him of the decision last week. McDermott did not go into further detail on the reasons behind his longtime trusted adviser’s decision to step away from football.
“We’ll miss him. I thought he did a really good job with our defense,” McDermott said of a decision that came a little more than five weeks after the three-time defending AFC East champion Bills were eliminated with a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati in the divisional round of the playoffs.
General manager Brandon Beane provided a few more details on Frazier's reasoning by saying: "Ultimately, he didn’t want to retire. He’s not there in his mind, but he just wanted to take a step back.”
While Frazier, who is still under contract with the Bills, intends to return to coaching, Beane said it’s not clear whether that will be with Buffalo.
As for Frazier’s immediate replacement, McDemott said he was still evaluating who will oversee the defensive play-calling duties next season. And McDermott didn’t rule out himself for the job, given he has spent a majority of his 25 seasons in the NFL overseeing defenses.
“That’s a big part of the consideration,” McDermott said. “I’m extremely confident in the guys that we have and the coaches that we have already in our building. So we’ll just see where it goes.”
Among McDermott’s options among coaches on his staff to fill the coordinator’s job are Al Holcomb, who was hired this offseason to serve as a senior defensive assistant, and defensive line coach Eric Washington, who also has experience as a coordinator.
Holcomb joined the Bills after finishing last season as the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator under interim coach Steve Wilks after Matt Rhule was fired. Holcomb has ties with McDermott, when he was the linebackers coach during McDermott’s final four seasons as the Panthers defensive coordinator before he was hired by Buffalo in 2017.
Frazier’s decision comes after an emotionally draining season, which included safety Damar Hamlin going into cardiac arrest and having to be resuscitated on the field during a game in Cincinnati on Jan. 2. The Bills also had their schedule disrupted by two major snowstorms.
The 63-year-old Frazier has spent the past six seasons as the Bills defensive coordinator, and he was among the first coaches hired by McDermott upon taking over in Buffalo.
He has 24 seasons of NFL coaching experience, including a three-plus-year stint as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings from 2010 to 2013.
One disappointment for Frazier has been an inability land another head coaching job. After interviewing for several vacancies in 2020 and 2021, he was not a candidate for any of the openings this offseason.
Last year, Frazier oversaw a Bills defense that overcame a series of injuries to finish ranked sixth in the NFL in fewest yards allowed and second in points allowed. Over his six years in Buffalo, the Bills defense finished ranked third or better in fewest yards allowed three times, including first in 2021.
Despite the defense’s regular-season success, critics pointed to how Buffalo underperformed in each of the team’s recent playoff defeats. Against Cincinnati, the Bills allowed 412 yards and a playoff-high 30 first downs. A year earlier in a 42-36 overtime loss to Kansas City in the divisional round, the Bills gave up 552 yards and squandered a three-point lead in the final 13 seconds in the fourth quarter.
Frazier is a former cornerback, who spent five seasons in the NFL and was a member of the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears’ famed Buddy Ryan defense, which is considered one of the best in league history.
Frazier broke into coaching in 1988 as head coach of NAIA Trinity College. In December, he was selected as a member of the Class of 2023 for the Black College Football Hall of Fame. He will be honored during a ceremony in June.
The Bills announced other changes to McDermott’s staff, including Adam Henry taking over as receivers coach. Henry, who spent last year as Indiana's offensive coordinator, replaces Chad Hall, who left Buffalo this offseason after being hired as the Jacksonville Jaguars receivers coach.
Henry has 11 seasons of NFL coaching experience, with his most recent as the Dallas Cowboys receivers coach from 2020-21. He served as receivers coach at LSU from 2012-14, when the Tigers receivers included Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.
The Bills also hired Austin Gund as an assistant offensive line coach and Kyle Shurmur as an offensive quality assistant coach.
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