ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (Jan. 4, 2006) -- Tom Donahoe was fired as Buffalo Bills president and general manager in a shakeup that could mark Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy's return to the franchise in a management role.
The move was announced by Bills owner Ralph Wilson a few days after he promised changes for an underachieving team that finished 5-11 and missed the playoffs for a sixth straight season.
Donahoe, the only executive to hold the president's title in the franchise's 46-year history, was dismissed after five seasons. Despite increasing the team's ticket base, Donahoe's ultimate failure was the team's inability to win.
The Bills went 31-49 during Donahoe's tenure -- the 31 wins tied with Cleveland for the third fewest in the NFL during that span. Besides Houston, which joined the league in 2002, the Bills are the only AFC team since 2001 that has failed to make the playoffs.
Buffalo hasn't made the playoffs since 1999.
Levy could play a role in the restructured front office, Wilson said.
"We're going to make that decision in the next few days," the owner said. "Marv is a very qualified individual and I don't know whether that will take place or not."
Levy, who turns 81 this year, is the team's winningest coach with a 112-70 record and led the Bills to four consecutive AFC titles in the early 1990s before retiring after the 1997 season.
Levy's possible involvement is considered a mild surprise, but reflects Wilson's desire to bring in a trusted confidante and longtime friend to an organization that, at times, alienated fans and even the team's owner under Donahoe.
Wilson said he has not determined the status of coach Mike Mularkey. Mularkey has three years left on his contract.
The owner said he will take back the role of team president, and will be more active than he has been in the last five years. He said assistant general manager Tom Modrak will retain his duties, but is not a candidate for the GM's job.
Donahoe was knocked for his management decisions, particularly the hiring of coach Gregg Williams, who was dismissed following the 2003 season after going 17-31 in three years.
The Bills produced in their first season under Mularkey, rallying from a 1-5 start to finish 9-7, but missed a shot at a playoff berth with a season-ending collapse despite playing against Pittsburgh's reserves.
The Bills struggled this season, undone by injuries and a sputtering offense under first-year starter J.P. Losman, who was eventually benched in favor of journeyman Kelly Holcomb.
With his coaching hires, Donahoe was faulted for passing over several other worthy candidates, including Carolina's John Fox, Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, Chicago's Lovie Smith and New England coordinators Charlie Weis, now the coach at Notre Dame, and Romeo Crennel, now with Cleveland.
Donahoe was also faulted for failing to address his offensive line this season despite awarding the starting job to the untested Losman. Losman went 1-7 as a starter and was eventually benched. The Bills offense struggled overall and their 4,122 yards were the fewest produced by Buffalo in a 16-game season.
Donahoe took over in Buffalo after Wilson fired John Butler.
Donahoe broke into the NFL as a scout with Pittsburgh in 1985 and eventually worked his way up to become the Steelers director of football operations. He was dismissed following the 1999 season after losing a power struggle to coach Bill Cowher.